Monthly Archives: February 2013

My perfect life (not)

There’s a blog I visit and read often. It’s a good blog because it’s written by a professional writer and because although the exterior of the thing always looks glossy and fabulous (nature, dogs, horses) and peaceful, the interior landscape of the writer sounds more or less interchangeable with your human experience, or mine, or anyone’s really. Different events and people, but same pain, angst and suffering.

So, here’s a blog that is not about my interior landscape. It is a post that would never appear on this other blog because these things just don’t seem to happen to everyone. Or maybe they do and have the sense to keep bloody quiet about it. This post is also designed for a certain member of the Wray Barton Wrecking Crew who has been having a torrid time lately, but has been the usual stalwart in the face it all. Perhaps it will make her smile. In which case it would all have been worth it.

The dog, have I mentioned the bloody dog on here? Oh yes. Often. He’s appeared in photos here looking winsome and he’s appeared looking snarly and people have commented on his looks and it’s all rather jolly having a dog to put on the blog on a slow day, or when he’s done something entertaining. The trouble is that lately the dog has been, literally, driving me mad. Or if not driving me mad, holding up a mirror to my madness.

We went out the other day, for a walk and thence to a pet superstore, only because I dared not return home without cat food (we had run out) and the cat was looking for my head on a stick by late lunchtime; she had not eaten since early breakfast and requires five meals a day minimum to maintain her usual surly and superior demeanour towards me. So I had to stop at this gargantuan warehouse of a pet shop because I didn’t have any cash on me and it’s the only place you can buy a cheap box of cat food with your card without the assistant hating you to your face.

As soon as I parked, which I did badly, hitting a kerb in the process, the dog started up whining because he knows that in that shop there is a pick and mix for mammals and birds which he likes to peruse. I took him in. We walked round and round the central island of pick and mix and he stuck his nose in various binnacles. Pink biscuits, yellow bones, multi-coloured bird seed and hay bars for rabbits – they have them all. It’s additive heaven. The dog enjoys it though and so did I until I realised that I had been conversing with him throughout…

I had started the chatting to him on the earlier walk and it didn’t really matter so much then because no-one was around but once I clocked myself in a busy pet emporium I had enough self-preservation left to realise what I might look like: a bit crazy. So then I told the dog, I really had to stop chatting out loud to him and could he just select his chosen pick and mix biscuits for me to put in a bag and then we could leave. Which, after some further deliberation and more accidentally verbalising what should have remained in my head from me, he did.

This will have to be continued. In my perfect life (not) I have to finish another thing I haven’t started yet and quickly tell the cat something, before I forget. Don’t worry though, I’ll get back to this story and it will so totally be worth the wait…

NO PICTURES OF ME IN A SHOP, WITH THE DOG, TALKING TO HIM, IN PUBLIC, BECAUSE THAT WOULD BE EMBARRASSING.

Stand Back

lightning

What to say about this? If I’d spent my whole life standing by this sign, maybe things would have worked out quite differently. On a different note, the word lightning always looks like it’s spelled wrong to me. (Incidentally, I am never sure whether I should say spelt, or spelled, but the former is a type of grain that makes flour, right?).

Lightning strikes and lightening? Well that’s different. Hopefully it’s something like – lightening the load. Does that happen ever, really. How do you keep a lightness of spirit, the thing you take for granted in your early youth, when lightning proves that, yes, it really does strike the same place, at least twice.

Then there’s lightening the palette. Lightening the pastry.

Lightning lightening lightening. It’s a bit like that linguistic tongue twister Buffalo buffalo Buffalo etc. But that’s another story, for which I can’t take a photo.

Groyne, Chalkwell Beach

groyne1

Hoardings: a visual antidote to ranting

The last post had me stirred up and I needed to balance the blog up a bit, so…

I have a bit of a thing about photographing hoardings. When you get the photos home and fiddle a bit you can uncover layers that you couldn’t see with the naked eye. I think the coloured squares must be painted onto the wood to hide the graffiti, otherwise why would so many hoardings have these squares on them. Why would anyone care anyway, except me. Basically I’m uncovering what’s hidden under the paint, on here. Unhiding things, yes, that’s a bit of me I suppose. The graffiti isn’t worthy or interesting, it’s not even tagging really, but I can relax when I’m working with the images. On this occasion the image with the blue line on the edge was the one that got me the most. No matter what, the blue line, some sort of oil-based paint I think, always gives the appearance of hovering over the wood, not being painted on it. You don’t get the sense of this at all in situ. I might go back and take some more of that.

Perhaps I need a new blog devoted to photos of hoardings. Now, that’s an antidote to nearly everything…

hoarding3

hoarding4

hoarding1

hoarding2

The Lib Dems – can they find a backbone between them?

Warning: today’s post seems a bit catty but no cats were harmed in its production.

I have listened to what seems like Lib Dem after Lib Dem come on the radio since Friday, each producing some woolly burble about rumours and careers and informal complaints and emails and not sure who knew what or said what to who, but goodness bless my liberal soul, aren’t we all just absolutely on the rack over this whole Lord Rennard thing as it’s so not in keeping with our values.

Well excuse me, but, what? I haven’t ever voted for one of this party’s candidates and on the evidence of the last few days I am not likely to (and that’s leaving aside their general Judas-like record in the so-called coalition government (not so as you’d notice, Nick)) because they are all just infuriating wafflemeisters who have turned a blind eye. At least the ones on the media are (that’s my minor attempt at some balance in an otherwise biased rant).

Oh yes, they bleat on and on and on about doing the right thing, but when it comes to actually doing something about anything it seems they close their eyes, their ears and their mouths and hope that someone, somewhere with a bleeding Lib Dem heart and a dustpan and brush will come along quietly and sweep up the unsightly mess and pop it in a suitable waste disposal facility. Then the Lib Dems can get back to doing what they appear to do best: navel-gazing interspersed with hand-wringing.

And now I am going to say something that pains me because the person in question was one of Lord Rennard’s ‘victims’ and of course sexual harassment in the work place is a serious issue and should be treated as such. Unfortunately, this woman said she had one eye on Lord Rennard and one on her career and the last thing ‘any of them wanted’ was all this media fuss. Oh really. Well, if you do the right thing and invoke procedures against someone like that it’s bound to get in the media. Kind of goes with the territory, perhaps, sadly.

From what the woman said this lunchtime in a news interview, Lord Rennard came onto her at a conference dinner and she told him where to go, except she couldn’t quite tell him that exactly, because she was a Lib Dem with her career on her mind, so instead she extricated herself from an awkward situation as liberally-mindedly as she could manage and then went to her hotel room. She said at that point, she was so distressed, all she wanted was ‘her daddy’. Whereupon, she called her father, who calmed her down so she could fall asleep somewhere in the same conference hotel as the predatory Lord Rennard and then face him in a training session the following day.

Now, Lord Rennard obviously has questions to answer, but when any sleazeball tries it on with a grown woman, of all the things the grown woman might do or say about the infringement of her civil liberties, calling daddy is not top of my list. Maybe that’s just me, but it just doesn’t seem like the most pragmatic response. Furthermore, sharing this information made her seem overly-emotional and as many a woman with ‘a career’ will tell you, emotional incontinence doesn’t play well on the field of battle. As she felt compelled to share this information with the media and to speak the actual words, that she wanted her daddy on national radio, on the World at One, on BBC Radio 4, I now only have one thing I can say to her. I would have liked that one thing to be something along the lines of, ‘Sorry to hear about this.’ Unfortunately, I have had it up to here with the Lib Dems so the one thing left to say is:

Get A Grip.

In fact, that goes for all you Lib Dems out there. Get a bloody grip and stop whining around on the national media because if you were in trouble before last Friday you are rapidly turning into utter no-hopers in the political stakes now.

Dismissed.

Cruel – yes. Earned – definitely.

I feel mean writing this post. I feel I want to support the women who have allegedly been infringed by Lord Rennard. The trouble is that the Lib Dems are so wishy-washy in nearly every respect I end up getting so frustrated that I froth. That also is my excuse for the ill-considered use of punctuation. Apologies, but better in than out.

A postscript to yesterday’s offering

Yesterday I rambled on about the consciousness of cats.

Then I broke the blog. Sorry, if you were the reader affected.

The cat came and fixed it for me and then went back to eating her dinner and reading a book.

Not only is the cat possessed of consciousness, she can also multitask.

Coming to sort the blog out

Coming to sort the blog out

P.P.S. She tells me it’s a good read

The Consciousness of Cats

Look, it’s Sunday morning, and I am not about to attempt a definition of consciousness of my own because that would be like… hard work. So, lazy like Sunday morning, let’s just use this one below as the working one, for the purposes of this morning’s post at least. I’ve lifted it directly from Wikipedia, obviously.

Consciousness is the quality or state of being aware of an external object or something within oneself. It has been defined as: subjectivity, awareness, sentience, the ability to experience or to feel, wakefulness, having a sense of selfhood, and the executive control system of the mind. Despite the difficulty in definition, many philosophers believe that there is a broadly shared underlying intuition about what consciousness is. As Max Velmans and Susan Schneider wrote in The Blackwell Companion to Consciousness: “Anything that we are aware of at a given moment forms part of our consciousness, making conscious experience at once the most familiar and most mysterious aspect of our lives.”

I was lying in bed thinking that, in the current fuss about horse meat in the food chain, do we in the West have a problem with eating animals that we commonly keep as pets – I include horses in this because as anyone has kept a horse can tell you there is plenty of time spent in that mode with them. Then I thought about the animals we have invited into our homes, or at least our lives, and I suppose the driver for the most common of these species was that they served some useful function for man. Cats catch vermin (in theory, some can be most indolent as we know), dogs can protect us, horses used to act as transport and still do in certain cultural rituals (weddings, funerals) and for recreational purposes. So then I was thinking, do we shy away from eating cats, dogs and horses not just because they are pets, but because as we have lived in close proximity with these animals that we have observed aspects of these animals’ consciousness? How much harder it is to eat an animal that you strongly suspect thinks about things. An animal that might, at some cognitive level, have an opinion if you were to entertain the notion of setting about it with a knife and fork…

So, having thought all that, I had to attempt to test the concept of animal consciousness. I can only do that through the observation of my own pets, which to me is preferable to a bunch of animals in a lab and perhaps equally empirically useful on a micro scale. All scientists have to start somewhere – Jean Piaget’s studies of his own children informed his hugely influential theory of child development, Darwin kept chickens or pigeons or something whilst writing the Origin of the Species and there will be many, many more. The first pet that sprang to mind this morning was not the dog, with whom I have the closer relationship, it was in fact the cat. The cat and I are not particularly close; mutual respect might be as far as it goes – after all I mainly buy her food. It is however the children’s father who feeds her the most important meal of the day: breakfast and based on that function I have had a chance to observe her behaviour which is as follows.

The cat likes to break her fast somewhere between 5 and 5.30 a.m. She’s greedy, what can I say? The alarm goes off about 5.30 but often he is up and about before then. The cat has developed a number of behaviours based on what I can only imagine are based on some internal concepts – probably hunger more than being able to tell the time. A hungry cat might miaow, or wait by the bowl, that would be instinct not consciousness. This cat, comes upstairs, walks into the room, walks round the bed ignoring the nearest human which is me, sits round the other side of the bed and miaows. When this does not get an immediate response she starts clawing at the sheet that covers the side of the bed. This more assertive claw-based approach normally gets her breakfast order sorted, pronto.

There are a few aspects of this behaviour that make me think she is actually not merely conditioned as per a Pavlovian dog.

1. She doesn’t always do it (fair enough maybe she’s not always hungry)

2. If the alarm does go off before she’s been in the room, she then acts as an extra get-out-of-bed alarm, miaowing away

3. That she doesn’t go straight to clawing the sheet – she tries the miaow first

None of this is conclusive though, that this particular cat has consciousness, that she is thinking about how to get the same person out of bed to feed her. It could be reasonably argued that she is simply hungry and her behaviour is driven by instinct. However, what utterly confounds this theory is what she does at weekends, when there is no alarm and no-one gets out of bed at 5.30 a.m.

On weekends she does not come in the bedroom at all. Her breakfast is served at the human’s convenience. Sometimes as late as 7.30 a.m.

Never.

For me, this knocks the behaviour based on a hunger instinct out of the water.

Whilst writing this I have been thinking too. Do we only notice a form of consciousness in animals that we closely share our lives with? If I was to share my house with a few cows would I notice some form of consciousness in them? I suspect, yes. Certainly cows that are ready to return from the field to the farm to be milked might congregate by the gate. Instinct and classical conditioning – certainly, but if we lived in closer proximity to all manner of beasts I am sure we would notice a deeper consciousness of some kind. The outstanding question for me is whether the cat’s consciousness is developed by living in close contact with humans, or whether it just gives us a better opportunity to notice it?

What lies behind those eyes

What lies behind those eyes

Thames Estuary: February colours

beach

Worry never rob…

Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow. It only robs today of its joy.

Leo Buscaglia

Oscar Pistorius Bail Hearing Coverage

I have been absolutely gripped by these proceedings via Twitter and the Guardian live feed, which has proved to be much quicker and informative than the BBC’s. Reading the testimony from the court really allows one to follow the legal arguments much better than reading the news reports afterwards which have unfortunately, but predictably, majored on hearsay.

Yesterday I wrote that fact is usually stranger than fiction and then things became simply surreal. It turned out that the investigating officer, Hilton Botha, was himself on a charge of attempted murder after allegedly shooting at seven people in a minibus whilst drunk. His evidence unravelled in court too. The ‘testosterone’ was not testosterone – the police had not read the label properly, the house Pistorius ‘owned’ in Italy was in fact on loan. The victim’s phone records had not been seen, despite their importance to the case and in rank incompetence policeman Botha had contaminated the scene with his shoes albeit without ‘meaning’ to. The ballistics evidence presented to the court was not from a specialist and they could not prove that Pistorius had not put on his prostheses before firing the gun. In fact, the more you read, the more you get an absolutely terrible view of the police.

As I wrote yesterday, the police were attached to the theory that there was a row prior to the shooting and that was the motive and the premeditation. Their ‘witnesses’ turned out to live either 300 or 600 metres away from Pistorius’ house – the police weren’t sure. If I were magistrate Desmond Nair, I would have some strong words for the police and I think I would be forced to grant Pistorius bail. Of course Nair has to base his decision on the evidence presented to him and whilst there may be some doubts about the defence, the police have really screwed theirs up completely. What is not admissible as evidence perhaps is human nature and I, who consider myself to be one of life’s more argumentative individuals, cannot imagine a scenario where I went to bed and then woke up and had a row at three in the morning.

Although there are some things in the defence that don’t make complete sense, I don’t think the prosecution case has made a whole lot of sense either. On balance Pistorius should probably get bail and the prosecution should drop the premeditation charge. On the other hand, the magistrate, Nair, knows the eyes of the world are on him, and under that kind of pressure who knows which way he will hop. Granting bail would cause uproar. If he wants to play it safe Pistorius will go to jail on remand. I’d go with uproar – at least it would send the message to the police to pull their collective fingers out.