On Mature Reflection

I dreamed I'd co-authored a book about how I came to leave the Church. I was leafing through the finished article and finding it very glum. My co-author was the Rev Dr John Armson- who was chaplain at my theological college. According to the dream he'd counselled me through the process; in reality (this reality) he had nothing to do with it- though he's someone with whom I've always felt I had some sort of link...

Dissatisfied with the book, I felt I wanted to add a postscript in the form of a Q & A.

Q: How did you feel about leaving the Church?

A: Like Billy the Kid.

Earworms And Rain

Binge-listening to variant versions of Matty Groves/Little Musgrave means I now have it as an ear worm. It could be worse; it could be the Birdy Song.

My friend David Kettle once set the words of Ezra Pound's poem "The Ballad of the Goodly Fere" to the Matty Groves tune and it fitted rather well- so now when the tune starts circling through my head it's a toss up whether the words I hear will be "A holiday, a holiday" or "I have seen him drive a hundred men". I'd much prefer the former but as often as not I get the latter. "The Goodly Fere" is a chunk of mock medievalism that counts among Pound's juvenilia. He wrote it in protest against the Sunday School vision of Jesus as a faintly masculinised pre-Raphaelite "stunner"- but went too far in the beefcake direction. "Goodly Fere" is a terrible poem- but catchy- and I could wish I'd never caught it...

Storm Christoph is passing through. I was expecting really fierce weather but thus far we've only had rain...

Matty Groves

I'm sure there's a version where the husband cuts his wife's head off and kicks it against the wall but I can't find it. Did I make it up?

Anyway I like it better than having him pin her to the wall, which is the sort of thing Zorro would do. Decapitation is far more medieval. Martin Carthy has him cut her "paps" off- which is a little too horrible.

Matty Groves is Child Ballad #81. Everyone sings it a little differently, with varying words and varying tunes- which is how things should be with the folk tradition. The eponymous hero is also known as Little Musgrave. And the man who kills him is variously Lord Donald, Lord Barnard, Lord Daniel and so on. I like him best as Lord Barnard- because Barnard Castle is a place you can find on the map (I understand they have a really good branch of Specsavers there)- and I like to think of the story having once actually happened in an actual place. The wife never has a name of her own- in spite of her being of "noble kin"- and this tells its own story.

The Ballad of Matty Groves/Little Musgrave is a tragedy- in the purest sense of the word. Everyone in it acts honorably and bravely, according to their wyrd. They do what they have to do- and the trap unforgivingly snaps shut on them. Even the servant who snitches on the lovers is doing the right thing according to the strict dictates of the feudal system in which he is embedded.

My favourite version is Fairport Convention's- because it's stripped back to essentials- and is not only a great song but a great poem.

Towards The North Downs

We've had a long run of cold, wet weather then, yesterday morning, the sky cleared.

This is the view down across our lower field, over the Weald towards the North Downs. That's Herbie's house you can see- and the Maidstone Road runs just the other side of it.

The Great Dan Leno

I watched the movie The Limehouse Golem last night. If you take it as a fever dream of late Victorian London- as filtered through Jekyll and Hyde, Dorian Gray and the Ripper mythos- it'll pass muster- but it hasn't got much to do with actuality. Douglas Booth has fun- and is fun to watch- playing the great comedian Dan Leno as a cross between Lily Savage and the MC from Cabaret- but enough survives of Leno's own schtick to make it plain he wasn't that kind of performer at all. He lived just long enough to make some sound recordings- they're available of line- (and God bless me- they're still funny)- but the persona that is projected there is dry, precisely spoken, subtle, diffident and not at all raucous or camp. He started out as a clog dancer and wound up as a character comedian and pantomime dame, with a line in social observation touched by surreality. Like all good comics he wanted to play it straight- in particular he fancied a shot at Richard III- and was never given the chance. The nearest we can get to a visual impression of the kind of thing he was up to is through the work of immediate successors like Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel. Like them he was a little man- playing- whether in drag or out of it- a quasi-innocent at odds with the world. Had he lived a little longer he'd have made movies himself- but he died at 43 in 1904 of workaholism tinged with alcohol. He put so much of himself into the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane that his ghost has been seen, heard and smelled there. Apparently his signature scent is lavender.

Does it matter that the movie so completely misrepresents him? Well, he was a great artist- and it's rather as though you made a movie featuring Picasso in which he's shown painting soup cans and making screen prints of Marilyn. Would that be acceptable? Only if you being deliberately disrespectful.

I Spoke Too Soon

I wrote a few days back- in a conversation about Inception- that there was no gunplay in my dreams. But that was then...

Last night I was being pursued by a hitman. I was hiding behind a slender concrete pillar- too slender to offer complete protection- and I could see him at the far side of the park, standing in a crowd that was watching some kind of public performance or display. He had spotted me too and was pointing his pistol straight at me. I was holding a rifle but it was a toy and no use except to be bluffing with.

Just As Well

Ailz saw someone come out of my mother's bedroom and then go back in again. It wasn't me- and I was the only other person around with the use of their legs.

I never see things myself- and sometimes I feel hard done by- but then I think it's probably just as well because I'm not a particularly well-grounded person and if I could see the fairies I'd be off with them. Like a shot. I get impatient with this funny little box we call reality but there are things that can be experienced inside it that can't be experienced outside and since I've chosen to be here I might as well give it my full attention- and  make the most of it while I can...

Rodents And ETs

There was a bit of rat activity last night but it never built up into anything really annoying. I lay there listening and trying to work out exactly where they were- and it struck me that maybe they weren't actually in the house but on the roof- in which case they're more likely to be squirrels than rats- which is a happy thought.

Dr Steven Greer believes we shouldn't wait for the government to disclose the "truth" about ETs but go out into nature, find somewhere relatively quiet- and talk to them ourselves- which is pretty much what he does full time. I watched a couple of his movies on Prime. They're called Unreported and Close Encounters of the Fifth Kind. He says the ETS are no danger to us but we're a danger to them- and that's why they're still keeping their distance- and we shouldn't believe government when it tells us we need to defend our air space against them because that's the sour old men of the military industrial complex talking and asking for more of our tax dollars. If a race that's capable of interstellar or even intergalactic travel really wanted to go to war with us they'd be able to wipe us out in a heart-beat- and would almost certainly have done so by now. Our continued existence is all the evidence we should need of their good intentions. ETs aren't even alien, really, because all of us are thoughts of the One Universal Mind- and the only difference is they're more advanced thoughts than we are- and for "more advanced" read "more loving, more peaceful, more aware". Think of them as our older brother and sisters.

The Homesman

I scroll down the page...

Amazon Prime has so many movies on offer.

So many movies I don't particularly want to watch...

I settle for The Homesman- because it's a western and it got good reviews when it first came out. It's basically The African Queen- with Hilary Swank as Hepburn and Tommy Lee Jones as Bogart- only with a twist three quarters of the way through that you really don't see coming. We're in Nebraska in the 1850s, three women have lost their minds owing to the pressure of life on the frontier and Swank and Jones have the job of taking them back east- which means trundling a kind of prison cell on wheels across the grasslands of the mid-west, facing weather and bad men and Pawnee warriors who may or may not be hostile- you know, all the usual things- but also inner demons because these two keepers of a travelling madhouse are more than a little mad themselves. It's a movie that's gotten lost in the unceasing spate of product (see above) but it's beautiful and strange.

Jones directs, he and Swank are outstanding- and there are great cameos from Tim Blake Nelson, James Spader and Meryl Streep.


I signed up to Amazon Prime inadvertently (they make it very easy to do) but since I've got it I'm going to use it to catch up with movies I quite wanted to see at the time of release but never got round to. Last night was Inception.

Inception is brilliant- and intelligent- but two questions:

1. Can Leonardo di Caprio do anything other than glower?

2. Why must all the dreams be so violent?