The 'ghost' of Chummy

When we had just lost our girl, a day or two out (I forget now: time blurs), my feather pillow was hunched where I always sleep. Chummy sometimes put herself there: she slept with us in the bed every night, and she would often curl up by my pillows until I got to bed (she and her dad would usually go in sooner). But this time, there was just the dark blue pillowcase, gaping to show the white feather pillow within it. My husband, seeing this, gasped at first: his mind interpreted it for a fraction of a second as Chummy, with the white mimicking the white 'mantle' of her natural coat. And the odd thing is, when he shuddered and I turned to see what he had shuddered at, I had the identical reaction: I almost 'saw' Chummy as the small hunched being with the white at her neck. We knew we had been fooled, but we both felt spooked. We interpreted some ordinary object as being something alive, since we wanted her to be there and were appalled that she was not.

This Christmas night

My daughter is in the Intensive Care Unit with other dogs that are gravely ill. Our Christmas presents sit unwrapped, the tree is unlit, and the rib roast with mashed potatoes and other delights remain unconsumed. The games we had looked forward to playing are still pristinely unplayed in their boxes. We had to cancel Christmas, or at least, if there is time, postpone it. But our girl is still with us, and that's all that matters. 

The late Linda McCartney

has always struck me as odd.

Odd-looking: the feathery-blonde almost-not-there eyebrows; the singularly strange short haircut at her forehead, not transitioning with any grace to the longer hair in back and below; her prominent adam's apple and pointy, elephant-skinned elbows; and those eyes, slanting sharply downward at the far corners -- just like Paul's. I reckon those Paul-mimicking eyes -- how many in the general population have that unusual configuration? -- had much to do with attracting him immediately to her presence.

She also struck me, in an interview that was recorded on their extensive Sussex property many years ago, as rather a princess: most people would LOVE to have her problems (the problems of having almost too much of what you've always wanted). They were sort of non-problems, the problems that only people with more money than imagination and emotional clarity can have. I didn't feel sorry for her. But then, I couldn't understand Paul's deep depression at the break-up of the Beatles, either. 

Still. Linda clearly enjoyed life and she made vegetarianism not only more popular but easier to embrace as a way of life, as well. As a singer she was unimpressive, but she did have a lovely speaking voice. She was mainly 'the wife of', but she modestly made the most of it, in a way that made the world a better place.

My fraser fir Christmas tree

Having said that about Christmas Avoidance Syndrome, I have to confess that I mean that only in the sense of acknowledging the festival publicly, out in public spaces. At home I have long since bought -- and wrapped -- numerous presents, as is my habit, so as not to be swamped when the season is truly upon us. In short, I've nothing against quiet, even secretive, Xmas preparations. And there is one thing you really can't delay on, and that's a fresh fir tree. If you leave it too late you'll be looking at fake ones, and then you'll be looking at only the oddball fake ones that are left when everything else has been sold off. A couple of years back we found ourselves face to face with something that looked like a candidate for the Turner prize. We had ummed and ahhed too long about whether we wanted fake or fresh, or what. So we ended up with nothing.

Now we have a tree that's in the region of 6 feet tall, if you count the spike on the top. And I'm so pleased with it, I'm going to get one next year, and this is going to be a new tradition. I love the fresh tree because I am someone that prefers the real, given a choice. I love it because I like the subtle aroma, and the hardy branches that won't drop and break my ornaments like the 'pretend' Norfolk Island pine did one year. I love it because all my decorations that have been hidden away in a box for years can finally be seen in all their sparkly charm. I love it because it will make Christmas seem more present in our home. I love it because the fraser fir is native to the Appalachian mountains, in various spots of which I have spent many enjoyable summers. And finally, I love the fact that when it's dry and the New Year is here, we can take it to the kerb and get rid of it. No need to box it up and try to find a place for it in the attic!

Christmas is now a month not an event

Witness the fact that late in November, a customer at a supermarket near us wished the nonplussed checkout cashier a 'merry christmas'. And the fact that the National Park Service in America has a Tree Lighting ceremony at the White House -- on November 30. This is on top of the fact that many millions of Americans think that the right day to start Christmas decorating is the day after Thanksgiving, which takes place on the fourth Thursday of November. With all this disorienting and unwelcome bathed-in-Christmas-constantly feeling, I'm developing Christmas Avoidance Syndrome. Please someone, make it stop!

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The demeaning of actresses is an industry problem, not just the fault of individual men

Has it occurred to anyone that 'the Weinstein treatment' of actresses and other women in any employer's orbit might be related to the 'pornographization' of movies in our era? Well, it's occurred to me. 

Acting has for centuries had a reputation as being disreputable. But acting in past centuries had a Christian eye sharply fixed on it, in ways that we would probably consider absurd (the prohibition on female roles being played by actual females, for a start). But all that changed, and there was a long time when acting could lead on to greater prestige, in politics or diplomacy, for instance. Shirley Temple became U. S. ambassador to Ghana and, during the fall of Communism in Europe, Czechoslovakia. (And even she, in an interview with Larry King on his show in October 1988, claimed without rancor that both she and her mother were imposed on sexually by the top men of MGM.)

But something has happened in my lifetime -- the past half-century, let's say -- that is surely unsavoury. Women have become more than merely attractive or sexy actresses; they have been required to act in ways (witness Blue Is The Warmest Color as Exhibit A, not that I have seen it nor ever would) that mimic pornographic prostration, or even become indistinguishable from it.

It wasn't that way when Grace Kelly was in films -- when she was rightly allowed to be a lady on screen, such that a prince of Monaco could see her, fall in love, and invite her to join him in as consort in his realm. In her day, acting was seen as a reputable profession, not as a gauzy form of visual prostitution. 

The selling of women in the lowest moral terms is degrading to the women in film. It is also degrading to our civilization.

Dame Maggie Smith said, in March 2017: 'I think they are so brave, the young actresses of today. They seem to have to strip off every second. I can’t imagine how they cope with it today, I really don’t. They are required to do the most extraordinary things'. Extraordinary is a lady-like word for the many un-lady-like things actresses are 'required' to do. And they ARE required, since there is only one Hollywood, and if you don't please the right people at the right time, you may find yourself cast out of your vocation for ever. The fact that several of the more famous and established actors have insisted on unadvertised body doubles is neither here nor there.

Julia Roberts agrees that nudity should not be part of an actress's job description. ''I wouldn’t do nudity in films," she once said. 'To act with my clothes on is a performance. To act with my clothes off is a documentary.’

Indeed. But more than that, it is to elevate prurience above any other motive for watching a film or following a narrative. 

It is past time that a woman of freedom should be able to say 'no, I won't mimic the accessibility of a whore, just for the privilege of being an actress'.

Give me an E!

I can't stand what seems to be the new transatlantic craze for spelling all progressive forms of a verb without an e -- so we have 'binging', 'aging', and 'cringing'. There is no verb, 'to bing'. There is no verb, 'to ag', and likewise there is no 'to cring'. I want the E to soften that G, as it has always been, especially in Britain, until lately: bingeing, ageing, cringeing. That to me looks right. And I'm sticking with it!

Never mind the Chinese, even native speakers don't speak English...

I have just read a comment by someone that claims to understand how people read web pages: by 'scanning'. This is rubbish. They 'skim' -- meaning that they read quickly, glancingly, and skipping much material that appears to be irrelevant to their inquiry. To 'scan', by contrast, means to read closely and intently: it's exactly the opposite.

Never mind: the other day an intelligent writer for a pre-eminent news commentary magazine wrote of someone getting behind a podium. I doubt it: a podium (as in podiatry and chiropodist) refers to the foot: its a platform you stand on, the better to address an audience. It's not a lectern: that's the thing you read from once up on the podium.


Chinese English is so much fun

On you can learn how to operate your new 'Gycinda Energy Saving Environmental Protection Handpush Sweeper, Broom & Dustpan & Trash Bin Three-in one, Mechanical Braking No Need Electricity (Blue)'. That's the product description: it makes most 16th-century titles of treatises seem fairly snappy by comparison. Anyway, operation is simple, according to the 'Use Manual': '1. Use hand press broom when clean the floor, it will take more rubbishes. 2. When broom take some rubbishes we need Bring up the broom make rubbishes go inside, then continue clean the floor'. The idea of 'rubbishes' is intriguing, as is the oddly sporadic punctuation. But it must be said that their English is better than my non-existent Chinese, though the potential for misunderstandings with anything more complicated than a broom is considerable.... (Note: I did not in fact buy one, opting instead for a non-electric silicone broom, which is most satisfactory.)

The mystery of the primitive toothbrush...

Collection of the Wellcome Trust, London, England.

Collection of the Wellcome Trust, London, England.

Apparently, the primitive toothbrush that a caveman -- or Napoleon, much the same thing in some respects -- would recognize is fashionable, trendy, and romantic for contemporary consumers. If not, why else would Pottery Barn and Anthropologie feature toothbrushes not seen since Gone With The Wind was a new film? Is there a secret and profitable market in hawking ludicrously outdated bad toothbrushes to modern retailers who think that good ones look gauche? Or do they import their props from Borneo, or what?

Anthropologie, again. They ain't kidding. This one looks like it's been used by a Neandertal for six months.

Anthropologie, again. They ain't kidding. This one looks like it's been used by a Neandertal for six months.

I like the toothbrush holders (under $16 for four at The brushes are quaint, are they not?

I like the toothbrush holders (under $16 for four at The brushes are quaint, are they not?

My dog's [human] toothbrush is more sophisticated than this.

My dog's [human] toothbrush is more sophisticated than this.

We all know that toothbrushes have moved on since Napoleon's time. He had a silver gilt one, monogrammed with the letter N (how bourgeois!) and stuffed with horsehair bristles, the bastard. You can see the front of it here, and the back as well. 

From a current Anthropologie collection.

From a current Anthropologie collection.

Pottery Barn, this time. A brush that Julius Caesar would have been proud to own. Or possibly Genghis Khan.

Pottery Barn, this time. A brush that Julius Caesar would have been proud to own. Or possibly Genghis Khan.

The amazing disappearing adverb

I remember the days when it wasn't considered baroque and extravagant to add -lily to the end of words that were meant to describe (or 'modify') verbs: 'we had a leisurely drive' but 'we drove leisurelily'. But if you look for it in the dictionary, it won't be there: why not? Why is OK to say 'livelily' but not 'leisurelily' on the same principle? Yes, it's a bit awkward, but adding 'lily' for the sake of a grammatical distinction always was. But the thing is, I still feel, when I read that benign tumour cells 'tend to grow more slowly and orderly' that something is missing. The 'slowly' part is all right, since it has an adverbial capacity built in, if you like. But 'orderly' is an adjective without that adverbial reach. I feel that it ought to be 'slowly and orderlily'. Perhaps that sounds too floral and fussy for our era.

Embracing the pies

English journalist and author, Marcus Berkmann

English journalist and author, Marcus Berkmann

I love this article by the ever-insightful and entertaining Marcus Berkmann. It's one of his last as music critic for The Spectator (that's the British one, of course), and the subject is fat and thin in popular music. My favourite part is this observation:

But while Jagger’s scrawniness, and the last-minute bickering over TV rights, suggest he is still as driven and uptight as ever, Keith Richards is visibly mellowing into old age. Not only has his hair been allowed to go as grey as nature intended, but for the first time I can remember he sported what can only be described as a paunch. Always useful to rest your guitar on between tunes, of course, but even so. Having eschewed the pharmaceuticals, he has embraced the pies. The Sixties are finally over. It really has been a long time coming.

I also love this:

Even the rockers who start fat don’t necessarily end fat. Meat Loaf, for one, is a shadow of his former self, a low-fat yogurt of a man.

Read it all and enjoy.