Notice being issued by a health centre just now: "If eligible for flu, please make an appointment with the nurse." Delightful! It comes under "Repeat prescriptions."
Thought for today: ?
Robots will eventually take over all peoples' jobs. Cars will be self-driven, so no bus drivers or taxi drivers. All the shops, meanwhile, depend on people buying food, clothing, the necessities of life. So if robots produce everything, and people produce nothing, who is going to give people money to buy stuff in the shops? Or will there be no shops and no people?
A passing friend
Jimmy Armfield, the great footballer and writer died, I see. Nice fellow. Exceptionally modest. He was a sports writer for the Daily Express and I came across him often there. When he was looking for a replacement manager for the England team (at the request, I gather, of the FA) I applied to him on paper for the job and did not get it. It could not have been my football ability that I was judged on, because he knew that I am not possessed of any, but on the fact that, once, when we were both heading for work in Manchester, I spotted him marooned with his car on the side of the motorway and waved as I went by. He got over it without once using one of those nasty sliding tackles footballers employ when you least expect it these days.
Snowfalls forecast, and that saddened me
Till the lads arrived and chopped a tree.
Now it's curtains drawn, and log fire burning
For life in the raw, I have no yearning.
Time before a good fire in a cold winter to examine the softer things of life. Poetry, for instance, and those who wrote it.
Amazing, that those who composed the most memorable poetry appear, often (Wordsworth and Yeats for a start) to have been a bit out of control physically. I mean - manic, daft.
W. B. Yeats (1865-1939). Here he is, described by a man of his times: "Yeats never had the remotest idea of taking care of himself. He would go all day without food unless someone remembered it for him, and in the same way would go on eating unless someone checked him. He was "a gaunt young figure, mouthing poetry, swinging his arms and gesticulating as he went.
"I remember how the big Dublin policemen used to eye him in those days as though uncertain whether to 'run him in' or not. But, by and by, they used to say, 'Shure, 'tisn't mad he is, nor yet drink taken. 'Tis the poethry that's disturbin' his head,' and leave him alone."
We read poetry, look at the pictures of the poets, and think: how clever, how observant, how dignified! Not so. The image for posterity represents a ghostly vision of the man, whereas the reality of the time presents the truth. Wordsworth springs to mind. If he had a sense of humour he kept it well hidden.
He said that he did not consider himself to be a witty poet and he was so right. Talking with friends: "I do not think I was ever witty but once in my life.' Those present wished to know what this special drollery was. After some hesitation the poet said—'Well, well, I will tell you. I was standing some time ago at the entrance of my cottage at Rydal Mount. A man accosted me with the question— 'Pray, sir, have you seen my wife pass by?'; whereupon I said, 'Why, my good friend, I didn't know till this moment that you had a wife!'"
That was it; end of joke. But out of courtesy, not necessity, his hearers burst into laughter, which Wordsworth accepted as a compliment to his wit.
Wordsworth walked and walked endlessly to provide his poetry and muttered and mumbled as he did so.
And where he walked, his sister, Dorothy Wordsworth, often walked too. It is all there in her journals, the intimacy of it, the observation:
"22 December - William and I went to Rydale for letters. The road was covered with dirty snow, rough and rather slippery. As we came up the White Moss we met an old man, who I saw was a beggar by his two bags hanging over his shoulder, but from a half laziness, half indifference, and wanting to try him if he would speak I let him pass. He said nothing, and my heart smote me.
"I turned back and said 'You are begging?' 'Ay,'says he. William: 'I suppose you were a sailor?' 'Ay,' says he. I gave him a halfpenny. then he said, 'I have been 57 years at sea, 12 on board a man-of-war under Sir Hugh Palmer.' 'Why have you not a pension?' 'I have no pension; I could have got into Greenwich hospital but all my officers are dead.' He was 75, had a freshish colour in his cheeks, grey hair, a decent hat with a binding rund the edge, the hat worn brown and glossy, his shoes small thin. . They had belonged to a gentleman...
"William walked further. When we came home he cleared a path to the necessary - called me over to see it, but before we got there a whole housetop full of snow had fallen from the roof upon the path..." She does not record what William said at the time, which is a pity. The "necessary" Dorothy refers to - I assume she meant a lavatory - must have been much like an igloo in Lake District chill.
I have been amazed, amused, unforgettably by Richard Sheridan. Irish of course. He owned the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane and in February, 1809, it burned to the ground. He had been attending Parliament. By the time he reached the theatre the fire was out of control. So he went to the pub across the road, ordered a drink, and watched it burn. To those who were surprised, he said, "A man may surely be able to take a glass of wine by his own fireside."
Ah well. Sometimes, the English are not far behind. In Lord Nelson's case, composure almost beyond belief without the poetry. On to the Battle of Trafalgar.
"Victory’s 820 crewmen could only grit their teeth and take cover as iron shot ripped through their decks and rigging. One blast hewed Nelson’s personal secretary clean in half. Another tore through a group of marines, killing eight men and mauling several more. Seemingly ignoring the mayhem, Nelson continued to stroll the deck alongside Victory’s captain, Thomas Hardy. 'This is too warm work to last long,' he mused."
James Boswell, Dr Johnson's attendant reporter, refers us back to 1764: "I was in true spirits; the earth was covered with snow; I surveyed wild nature with a noble eye..."
We are not blessed with noble eyes for such things these days, but let us continue...
"I met (Voltaire) in his chateau. We talked of Scotland. I told him that Mr Johnson and I intended to make a tour through the Hebrides. He smiled and cried, 'Very well, but I shall remain here.'
"I asked him if he still spoke English. He replied, 'No. To speak English one must place the tongue between the teeth, and I have lost my teeth.'"
Well, there we are: we have looked beyond our time for a snapshot of comfort in a wintry Britain.
Still cold outside. Sleet in the air. A single pheasant feeding on my apples, long rotted, in the grass. Blackbirds stealing the small birds' ground peanuts in the swinging container. How brave, the small birds. They make me feel cowardly and inferior.
Must go. The logs need replenishing.
Ronald Carter, blacksmith
Violet Carson (Ena Sharples)
"The magic of Shakespeare swept me off my feet. Then I'm back to 'Ee, by gum' in the Street. It trapped me. It made me, if you like: it has gone all over the world. But it has destroyed me, because nobody sees me or anything about me."
Dame Gracie Fields & me
(Railway Children)L S Lowry (above)
"You're not getting your ball back," she used to shout. "You'll kill somebody, you lot."
The crucible (climbing)
copyright: Geoffrey Mather 2017
(collected in one spot) On growing old So there they were - Hollywood dominating the world with its Clark Gables, Jean Harlows, Spencer Tracys, Garbos and Bogarts, tears in its eyes, inventive, vulnerable, blessed by climate, limos and money but tormented, insecure and edgy as fledglings in nests. Bennett's art is to take the apparently trivial - his mother's views of "her betters" and so on - and make them meaningful in much larger ways. Miss Shepherd tested all his beliefs and inhibitions one by one. The two of them existed together, but in worlds apart, like aliens. And yet, I suspect, it was the sameness that reached furthest into the writer's psyche. His long essay on Miss Shepherd is superb. Even on the second reading, I was laughing out loud, to the disgust of the dog,, and in the next sentence feeling for Bennett's own agony. So you have this magic formula, where the relationship between two people over 20 years can match the life experiences of us all.
"I am all for the unusual on Page One. I do not read stories of the type headed ' Bandits gag, tie up woman' very much nowadays because people are always gagging and tying up women. Such incidents are as common as gas-oven suicides."
became editor of the Daily Express in October, 1933, a position he held for 24 years until 1957. During his editorship sales peaked at two million in 1935, over three million in 1944 and four million in 1949. Each day he wrote a bulletin. It was compulsory reading for members of editorial staff. Here are many of those bulletins.
+ Molloy of the Mirror + Clive James + Churchill + Big-ego words + Vanishing language + Noam Chomsky's words + Great words of great events
In spite of his own eccentricities, he wanted the world to behave as he expected it to. Big companies, shops, waiters and hotel managers were his normal fodder. He terrorised them. When he snagged a coat on something protruding in Woolworth's, he said to the manager, "This is an expensive coat." "I can see it is," said the manager. "I noticed it when you came in." "Right," said Brian Duff, "I expect you to pay for it. And I don't want it invisibly mended because you can see it."
Sir James Scott Douglas (gossip columnist)
When an editor complained of his booking into an expensive London hotel - the Dorchester as I recall - at the firm's expense, James merely said, "Where else can one entertain one's proprietor?" and the matter was hurriedly concluded, since no-one was prepared to phone (the late) Sir Max Aitken, who bossed the place at the time.
I asked Jim (I always called him Jim, to be perverse, though it was obvious that he was entitled to James) to find out something one day - on the phone, I emphasised - and he said, "Oh yes, I shall ring" - go on, guess - "...Uncle Essex." It made me wish I had an Uncle Oswaldtwistle
James had a habit of living extravagantly and encountering hard times, which is how he came to be a journalist. Both conditions were once almost fundamental to the job.
Pub Talk with Peter Thomas
Dudley Doolittle (comic),