And so in to 2017

My attitude towards New Year’s Eve this year was summed up rather well when I went to Asda this afternoon to buy ‘the boys’ – our 2 cats, Jarvis and Marvin – some cooked chicken. They like this as a treat, and whilst New Year’s Day lunch will feature roast beef, the boys just don’t like beef as much as chicken or turkey, so out to Asda I went.

I found myself in the checkout queue with a number of people carrying various bottles of champagne, sparkling white wine and Buck’s Fizz.  Me? Some chicken and a tub of Ovaltine.

New Year’s Eve has never been a big event at Pritchard Towers; typically it’s Jools Holland, drink the New Year in, then off to bed. This year it’s been reading, dozing, then suddenly noticing that it’s 2 minutes to midnight. Could we be bothered to drink the New Year in? Nope. But we did enjoy the thunderous roar of the fireworks around the neighbourhood – I decided that it was the New Year finishing off the Old Year in a fusilade of gun fire, with a final ‘kill shot’ coming from a large firework that shook the house.

No Jools Holland, no sparkly drinkies. This year we just didn’t feel up to it; I think we were just glad to get shut of 2016 as quickly as possible with as little palaver as possible.

I come to New Year’s Eve with a small collection of superstitions from my childhood.

I was very popular as a ‘first footer’ as an older child – I had dark hair (which apparently is good) and would be shooed out of the house just before midnight, armed with a piece of shortbread and a piece of coal. After the stroke of midnight, I’d be welcomed in to the house and the shortbread and coal were to signify that no one in the house would be hungry or cold in the coming year.

It was also important to go in to the New Year with no clothes drying around the house, and no pots waiting to be washed or washing in the washing machine.  The idea was that the state of the house would give an indication as to what things would be like in the coming year.  A sort of ‘start as you intend to go on’.

Both of these superstitions suggested some sort of ‘sympathetic magic’ in which what happened at New Year influenced the year to come, and if that’s the case my 2017 will be a mixed bag indeed. The first thing drunk in 2017 has been a cup of tea, the first thing done was to then put a hot water bottle in the bed. I then fed the cats, cleared up a small turd left in the bathroom by Jarvis, finished writing my intercessionary prayers for Evening Prayers tomorrow evening, and wrote this blog post.

On this basis, my 2017 will be based around tea, hot water bottles, cat-care, God and writing.

I could do worse.

Happy New Year!

Michael Meacher – another of the old school leaves us

I was sad today to hear of the death of Michael Meacher, left wing Labour MP for Oldham West and Royton. He was one of the last of the ‘old school’ Labour politicians who showed true Socialist conviction, having been first elected in 1970 and serving under Harold Wilson, Jim Callaghan and Tony Blair, and was once even suggested as a possible Labour Leader.

I remember Neil Kinnock referring to Mr Meacher as ‘Tony Benn’s Vicar on Earth’, such was the latter’s support for the left wing firebrand. He was also a supporter of Jeremy Corbyn, being one of the Labour MPs who nominated and supported JC at the start of his campaign to become leader of the Labour Party.

That he died so soon after the election of a party Leader that he admired and supported wholeheartedly is a great and sad irony, but it isn’t the only irony around the timing of his death…

In late 1985, the BBC broadcast one of the finest thrillers they ever produced ‘Edge of Darkness’.  If you’ve never seen it, treat yourself and try and find it online or on a DVD – well worth 6 hours of anyone’s life, and still astonishingly relevant.  In it, a detective investigates the death of his daughter, murdered when she finds out that Plutonium is being stockpiled illegally in an underground facility in Yorkshire owned by a massive US energy company.

Meacher plays himself at a political meeting, speaking on environmental issues. And I’m sure he’d appreciate the irony of his death on the day on which the British Government allowed a foreign power to take a substantial degree of control over parts of our nuclear industry…



I’ll keep my dreams non-lucid, thanks!

I’m a dreamer….not in terms of Peace on Earth, winning the lottery, etc. but more in the line of trying to keep an eye on my own internal, nocturnal landscape.  When I wake up, if I remember a dream, I write it down.  I have dream diaries going back about a decade now, and take a Jungian approach to what Freud called ‘the royal road to the unconcious’.

I’ll occasionally go back over my diaries, look for patterns or recurring issues, think things through and generally get some good insight in to my inner workings by examining my dreams.  I’ve also been known to do a little analysis work for friends and family.

So, I was interested to read this article on the BBC website looking at the area of lucid dreaming.  In case you’ve not come across the concept, the idea is to condition yourself to be able to take control of your dreams by bringing yourself to a state of semi-wakefullness when you’re dreaming that will then allow you to affect the dircetion of the dreams to soem degree whilst still staying in a dreaming state.  This can be done (with practice) by a fair percentage of the population, and there are now technological aids that will either make you more likely to enter a lucid state when going to sleep by a light / sound display or that will play a sound, give you a mild electrical shock, flash a light, etc. by detecting when you are dreaming.

So far, so good – sounds like a good source of cheap, realistic (albeit rather unpredictable) entertainment!  When I was a kid I had a few episodes of lucidity when dreaming – that moment when you realise ‘Oooh…I’m dreaming….can I fly?’ or those nightmares where by sheer will you manage to wake yourself up before unpleasantnesses occur.  And I quite fancied the idea of lucid dreaming when I read about it in my teens, but didn’t follow through – back then the technology was less easy to come by and my capability for any sort of mental discipline was….scarce.

Then I started recording my dreams, got in to Jungian psychology, and decided against the idea of ever ‘going lucid’.  Why?

Well, I believe that my dreams are essentially of three sorts.  The first is reactive stuff – I watch Aliens on TV before going to bed, eat a cheese and marmite sandwich and then have nightmares.  Or my cat lays across my chest and I dream of being suffocated by a cat…

The second is the ‘bread and butter’ dreams of my sub-conscious mind trying to tell me something, to varying degrees of success.  These reflect my inner anxieties, concerns, etc.  Sometimes I get dreams that I recognise as anxiety dreams when I feel OK – then after a few minutes thought I realise that there are a few things causing me concern.  I find that much of the time when I address these issues in my conscious mind then the dreams disappear or change form.  Job done, I guess.

The third, and rarest, type of dreams for me are what Jung called the ‘Big Dreams’ – these are the ones where for days afterwards I’m chewing it over.  the ones where I may wake up in tears of joy or sadness.  The ones that really speak from deep down inside me.

And the latter two types of dream I value the most – the unpredictability, the weirdness, the insights.  None of which would come were I to be in control of my dreams to even a small degree by lucid dreaming. These are the dreams that tell me stuff that I conciously don’t realise about myself, and I wouldn’t be the man I am today (for better or worse!!) had I not had these dreams. Spending my dreaming hours in various ‘fun activities’ would be a waste.

And we don’t know the long term impact of taking control of such a fundamental part of sleep. For very competent lucid dreamers would there be massive ‘American Werewolf’ problems – in the film ‘An American Werewolf in London’ a character wakes from a nightmare, then after a while he finds he’s still dreaming – a dream within a dream.  Would we get people starting to question whether they are awake or whether they have reached some high degree of lucidity?

Quite a bit to ponder; for those who dream lucidly, dream wisely.


Running with the hares and hunting with the hounds….

The title of this piece alludes to an old English saying; to ‘run with the hares and hunt with the hounds’ is a way of saying that someone attempts to benefit from both sides in a dispute.

This saying was bought very much to my mind last week by the actions of two entertainers whose behaviour might be regarded as jarring somewhat with the ‘public persona’ that has made them famous.

The first of these is the satirist Armando Iannucci – described by the Daily Telegraph as ‘the hardman of political satire’ for his work with TV show ‘The Thick of It’ and the film ‘In the loop’. It seems odd that such a person should accept an OBE – which is what has happened.  In other words, satirist honoured by the system that he apparently despises so much, and who then chooses to accept the honour.  Consider yourself neutered, Armando.

The second is Jimmy Carr, comedian and someone who has been shown to be ‘frugal with his tax payments’ by using a legal tax avoidance scheme.  There is an old joke that says ‘What’s the difference between tax avoidance and tax evasion? About 7 years in Pentonville prison….’; well, Carr has apparently seen the light and accepted that what he did was wrong.  After all, sheltering 3 million a year from HMRC at a time when most of us are under the cosh might seem a little unfeeling- especially coming from a man who’s humour has included comments about the fact that Barclays Bank only pays 1% tax.  But it’s OK – it’s all a joke, isn’t it?

These two gentlemen, in my eyes, do seem to want the benefits of appearing edgy and slightly risky, whilst apparently accepting all the perks and benefits that the current establishment and economic system have to offer.  To me it leaves a rather nasty taste in my mouth.

I have to say that I’m not a fan of the work of either man – I guess that’s made it easier for me to be grumpy about it – but my estimation of both of them would have gone up had they walked the walk that goes with their talk.

Just one more thing….

Yesterday, Peter Falk died.  The 83 year old veteran actor had had dementia for a few years – an ironic end for a man who will always be known as Columbo, the dishevelled homicide detective with the razor sharp mind. Enough will be (rightly) written about Mr Falk over the next few days, and I’m sure that the TV planners are already dusting off parts of their schedule for a few re-runs, but I just wanted to blog about what Peter Falk meant to me as an integral part of growing up.

I blogged about the show a year or so ago – here – and it’s sad to come back to it in this way.

Columbo was part of the ‘Mystery Movie’  TV series developed in the US in the late 1960s / early 1970s that featured feature-length stories from three or four detective, once a week. So you’d get a Columbo one week, McMillan and Wife, then a McCloud, etc. They were standard viewing in Pritchard Towers – although I was usually dodging in and out of the living room, doing homework and hobbies or just ‘mucking about’ in the evening.   Columbo is always associated with my early teens; whereas I was not always allowed to watch some TV police shows, Columbo was OK and passed parental screening.

It was like a jigsaw puzzle – you knew who did it, when, how and to whom.  the trick was working out how Columbo would piece the clues together to get to the murderer. If there was ever such a thing as a ‘Police Opera’, Columbo was it.  There’s a saying ‘The opera ain’t over till the fat lady sings’ – in Columbo, it wouldn’t be over until the man in the mac turned to the suspect as he was leaving after an interview and said ‘There’s just one more thing…’.  That was the ‘Black Spot’ for the murderer – they were marked for nicking, and it was just a formality from there on in.  The bumbling detective who, in the words of one character, ‘looked like an unmade bed’ was in many cases almost apologetic when he slapped the cuffs on – indeed, there were a number of episodes where the murderer was much more sympathetic than the victim! Columbo was like a favourite uncle, complete with dreadful car and a dog as laid back as he was, called ‘Dog’.

Like another of my favourite detectives, Morse, first name was never mentioned; I got the impression that his mysterious wife (like Arthur Dailey’s ‘er indoors’, mentioned often, never seen) would call him to dinner with a quick ‘Lieutenant, dinner’s up’.  To me he had a number of character traits that were charming and unusual to see in a lead role in a TV detective show.  He was untidy, (apparently) easily distracted, showed humility and was pretty non-violent. He also had a sharp mind, dogged persistence and a sense of fair play and justice. In other words, he was a nice guy who just happened to be a homicide cop.  He didn’t have ‘issues’ like modern cops, but you could actually believe in him – I think even now I want my police murder squad people to be either Columbo or Morse.

Falk was also brilliant in one of my favourite war films ‘Anzio’, in which he played a member of a squad of GIs stuck in a farmouse with German soldiers around them, but for me his greatest film role would be as, wait for it, unkempt, dishevelled, private detective ‘Sam Diamond’ in the brilliant comedy ‘Murder by Death’, which sends up every ‘locked room’ mystery you will ever have seen.  It was on TV a few days ago.  There is a description (and spoilers) here.  If you’ve not seen it, and don’t mind fun being poked at Miss Marple, Hercule Poirot, Sam Spade et al. then do take a look!  Falk has some brilliant lines – I have to say that my favourite, after he finds out that he and his girlfriend are locked in a room with a bomb set to explode in 30 seconds, is :

[a bomb is about to explode]
Sam Diamond: I’ve got an idea! I don’t know if it will work but I’ve got to try. Turn around!
Tess Skeffington: I’ve turned, Sam.
Sam Diamond: Whatever you do, don’t turn around until I say so.
Tess Skeffington: [turns around] But Sam…
Tess Skeffington: Yes, Sam.
Sam Diamond: Good! Cause… I think… I’m gonna cry.

When the news came through about Peter’s death yesterday, I heard it first from Twitter, and then came the grubbing around for a few minutes on Google and such to get it confirmed.  I have to admit to being a little bit teary – but then I realised that I was sad and smiling – all those super memories I have put there by Peter Falk. 

Let me find my Columbo box set…