A most excellent article

Over on the Mount Franklin Annual Pagan Gathering blog site is an article written by a senior member of the Gathering. It addresses many of the same issues I raised in my article from last year, only with an added depth of perspective and a delightfully witty and eloquent style I could only hope to emulate.

You can read the article here.

Bass is Best #2

It’s been a while since I started  this look at why I learned to love the bass, but since it’s been stuck in my head a lot lately I will continue the theme by introducing John Paul Jones.

The legendary multi-instrumentalist from Led Zeppelin doesn’t need an introduction, so I won’t go into a lot of biographical stuff. That’s what Wikipedia’s for. Suffice it to say, JPJ has been pretty much my favourite bassist since the moment I heard him play. He has such a fantastic grasp on melody and rhythm and backs it up with some very impressive chops.

So, an isolated bass track of What is and What Should Never Be appeared on the net a little while back and it’s a stunning example of Mr. Jones’ genius. He manages to control this pretty, lilting line through the verses, then drives the chorus hard. Throughout he drifts around the pulse with such subtlety, adding small ornaments and improvised runs, it is a work of art.

There are too many other examples to choose from, although I am quite partial to his collaboration with Diamanda Galas, and Them Crooked Vultures has some tasty bass too.

So, John Paul Jones is a master of melodic rock bass, one of my all-time faves. But not the only one. I’ll share my thoughts and feelings about other bassists and I welcome discussion along the way.

/crickets

Yes, yes. I’ve been quiet lately. Not much writing going on. In truth I’ve been taking a bit of a holiday from just about everything but now I’m starting to get back into the swing of things.

2013 will bring more Phil, I promise. It will also bring some other projects to life. It also means a return to my regular job, after a long recovery from injury.

Went on holiday recently. Experienced some things I’d rather I hadn’t. Like people driving cars on the beach. That’s a stupid idea. Beach cricket is more fun when you aren’t likely to get flattened by someone in a 4WD vehicle during your run-up. And gastroenteritis. That gave me the shits (oh, such fine wit). It did though, really. Also, people who live in coastal towns that enjoy a huge influx of tourists during the Summer really ought to be prepared for it and act with slightly less irritation at the people who patronise their businesses and effectively keep their town alive. But so often they aren’t, and they don’t.

People, generally, were the downside to this holiday, and that’s a shame. The town was lovely and the region very interesting and picturesque, but it was full to bursting with the kinds of people I’d really rather not have to contend with. For example, the car-loads of youths with nothing better to do, cruising around and making lewd remarks at young women who might otherwise be just going about their business. There was also the visibly harassed checkout chick who thought nothing of dressing down a junior staff member in front of dozens of customers because she wanted to go on a break and for some unrelated reason had been unable to. The people in shops who look at you as if you were about to steal something simply because you have pockets into which things might go. Not to mention the people who think it’s acceptable to be publicly inebriated and urinate, vomit, shout obscenities and generally make an arse of themselves for all to see.

I had to try and explain to my kids what these people were about. Young children are told in school that people are basically the same and we should all care about each other equally and so on and so forth. I understand the reasons for this, and indeed for the most part my wife and I have invoked those sentiments when helping our kids through issues they may have encountered with people at school and elsewhere. But when faced with idiocy, drunkenness, irrational rudeness, pathological selfishness, sexism, racism and ignorance I don’t think the tolerant line is adequate.

The truth is, some people are just dicks.

They just are, and there’s no amount of tolerance that will help them become otherwise.

Turns out our kids already knew that. Apparently it’s just as obvious to them as it is to us. They’re so smart 🙂

Pranks and what shouldn’t have been

I’ve been reading about the 2DayFM DJs and their prank call to the hospital in which the Duchess of Cambridge was staying for treatment. Much as you’d expect, there are some parts of the media calling for the severe discipline of these two young people and another part rather pompously justifying their actions and telling the rest of us to just calm down because they’re not really to blame.

Blame is the thing, though, isn’t it? I imagine the family and friends of the nurse who seems to have taken her own life as a result of this debacle would feel like blaming someone for what happened, if only to help make sense of what would otherwise seem a senseless loss.

Blame seems to be apportioned in increasingly stupid ways in this case. You could blame the two DJs for making the call, but then they are just a couple of people trying to be amusing for our benefit, or at least the benefit of their employers’ advertising revenue. They claim they weren’t trying to be invasive of privacy, in fact they claim they were surprised their inept antics weren’t spotted immediately and the call terminated. They also claim that the decision to air the call was made by people higher up the chain of production, which is undoubtedly true, and so it’s really not their fault that any harm resulted from the call.

So yes, it was the 2DayFM management that are really responsible for the call being aired, but of course they claim that they haven’t broken any laws so really they’re not in the wrong. They tried, they claim, five times to contact the Hospital and couldn’t get through to anyone. The Hospital claim they received no calls. To my mind, at least, the decision by management to opt to seek forgiveness rather than permission and air the call anyway was cavalier, to say the least. Irresponsible, definitely. But their actions can be justified by the fact that they are simply trying to make their product stand out in a competitive marketplace. So it’s not exactly their fault, either.

The nurse who took the call and forwarded it through to the nurse treating the Duchess could be blamed for making an error of judgement. People will tend not to, quite rightly, because we’re all entitled to make mistakes and after all, this is the BRITISH ROYAL FAMILY we’re talking about here. The pressure of dealing with the Monarchy in person, combined with the pressure nurses are under just in their everyday course of duty must have been huge. Hence, if this error of judgement really led to that nurse taking her own life as is being suggested then it’s hardly surprising. I’m not much of a monarchist but I am a professional person and I would feel pretty awful if I allowed a breach in privacy like that to happen. So she’s not really to blame, either.

Then who is to blame? Everyone seems to be looking around for someone to pillory over this incident, but unsurprisingly they are looking in the wrong place. Instead of looking all around, they should be looking within. We’re all to blame for what’s happened. Every time we partake of the culture of celebrity we’re enabling these kinds of events to occur. Every time we gossip about people we don’t know personally for no reason other than that the details of their lives seem more interesting than our own, we enable these kinds of events to occur. Many Australian journalists are making merry with the irony of the UK media being up in arms over this in the wake of the Leveson Inquiry. It’s as if they’ve never seen hypocrisy before. So much of the media is occupied with gossip, celebrity or otherwise, that it’s all some people ever talk about. Numerous people make a living out of making the regular lives of people sound salacious and entertaining. Of course even more people feed off this information, become absorbed by it. The really awful part of it all, apart from the “dumbing down” of society that seems to be accompanying this trend towards gossip (which, I acknowledge has been happening for at least a few centuries – and ironically really took off  during the “Enlightenment”), is the fact that an industry has been created merely to perpetuate the process. Huge sums of money are being wasted on this kind of information. Who benefits from it? Am I a better person for knowing who, or indeed what, “Snooki” is? Of course not. The only people who benefit are those who profit from it. Everyone else is just a greasy little cog in a dirty big machine.

It’s absurd. That’s the best description for it. Not only does the inane nature of popular media result in moronic pranks like the one that sparked this all off, subsequent moronic behaviour acts as tinder to set the incident ablaze. When lives are threatened, damaged and lost because we live in a world where there’s apparently nothing better for people to think about than taking the piss out of other people they’ve never met and shouldn’t have any business interfering with, it is absurd. That the people who actually profit from this absurdity actually refuse to see that there’s anything wrong with that, and indeed retort that they should be able to do whatever they like to whomever they like and can pay for the privilege, that’s absurd.

Where is the meaning in any of this? Why should we tolerate it? Comments are welcome.

Bass is best #1

I’ve been trying to think of a way that I can introduce an element of my own musicality to this blog, besides the earlier post I wrote on another blog. In particular, I want to talk about bass, and why I love it so much.

I’m going to refer to this love of mine as “bass”, rather than limiting myself to any one particular bass or bass-clef instrument, because in reality a great many different forms of bass have influenced my appreciation of the low notes.

So what’s likely to happen is I will put links to other people’s media and tell you why I love that particular  bass part, musician or instrument. If you’ve managed to find your way to my blog because of an interest in fishing, then Hi there! As much as I do enjoy fishing I don’t know enough about it to write anything very meaningful on the topic.

For this first entry, which will be a little more lengthy than the ones I have planned for the future, I will begin by describing my earliest musical memories. In my family it’s common knowledge that the kind of music that first caught my imagination was what I described as “funny music”. At the tender age of what must have been very young (I don’t know exactly but by the way my elder sister giggles about it I’m thinking probably two or three years old) I was exposed to what I now understand to be Trad and Dixieland Jazz. I know what I loved about it; I loved the raucous, unbridled sounds of all those instruments playing what often seemed not only distinct, but unrelated parts together in a glorious cacophony. The shuffling drums, the noodling clarinets, the piercing trumpets and the occasional joyous vocal part. But most of all, it was the trombone that really caught my attention. The versatility of sounds it produced, especially muted, and the sliding between notes that gave the lines such fluidity and added a little element of sound that cut in over everything else. The trom part in the chorus of Tiger Rag, for example, still elicits some of the same frisson of joy I first experienced upon listening to it all those years ago. I had one cassette tape of funny music that I listened to for a good couple of decades before I had to admit defeat and accept that I couldn’t possibly repair it any more than I had already. It was called Trad, Dixieland and all that Jazz by the Adrian Ford Big Band. So the trombone was my first bass love, I suppose, even though in that early jazz it wasn’t limited to holding down the bottom end, as there was often a tuba or double bass to do that job. Even back then I was acutely aware of the walking bass lines that meandered through the murky lower frequencies of those songs, and now that I own and play a double bass I have an appreciation of just what a mammoth task it must have been to try and penetrate the huge sound being generated by the rest of the band.

My parents’ record collection was a mish-mash of music that didn’t stray too far into the 20th Century. I don’t remember all of it, but I do seem to recall musing one day that perhaps the most contemporary compositions were West Side Story and I’m sure there was an album by The Seekers in there too. I only listened to the Bernstein. I once asked my Mum what her favourite music was, and after giving it considerable thought she replied “Church music”. So there’s a hint. My Dad was into musical theatre. Lots of Gilbert and Sullivan. So funny music did the trick, along with listening to pop music on the radio (usually past my bedtime, with the volume at its lowest setting and my ear pressed up to the speaker). I will write a post later about how some of the records featuring various “classical” music performances also gave me a bass buzz.

The other source of bass inspiration came from television theme songs. I’ve thought about it, and I’ve narrowed the list of the most influential down to five. Here they are:

So, #5: The Sesame Street Pinball animation.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1y5ZP1E_Vzs&feature=fvst

I know it’s technically not a theme song, but it featured often enough in classic Sesame Street and was influential enough on me to make the list. This version has the steel drum solo, which was amazing but I recall solos being taken on a variety of instruments during the middle section. But what a bass line! Funky and syncopated… I’ve since learned that these little interludes started in 1976 and that it’s in fact the Pointer Sisters on vocals. This link will refer you to a letter from Walt Kraemer, the composer, that was written in response to enquiries about this piece. Rumours abounded at one stage that it was the work of Herbie Hancock, or even Frank Zappa. Anyway, probably the oldest TV bass earworm for me.

#4: Monkey

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0mBk-WJ31BE

This series had some great bass lines, and the theme tune is one of the best. It has some complexity to it, whilst sitting on the rhythm for most of the verse it’s then let free to explore its own little rhythmic melody before the chorus, with those disco-esque octave runs. I love it, quality music all the way through.

#3: Grange Hill

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-SlvZF6k5bE

I loved this show as a kid, and its theme still stands out as being a really bass-heavy song. The actual melody is pretty sparse, and that almost sleazy doubled-up bass line grooves along very nicely indeed.

#2: The Goodies

Bill Oddie’s influence probably needs a post of its own. All I should say is “Needed, needed, Oh Goody that’s niiiice” and people in the know will get my meaning.

#1: Dr. Who

Undoubtedly a big part of the reason I also came to love electronic music, the theme to Dr. Who, in particular the renditions from the late 70s and early 80s, stands out as one of the truly triumphant bass lines. Properly creepy, too. The new Dr. Who (or Dr. Who Lite, as I like to think of it) theme just doesn’t do it justice. If your pants weren’t scared off by the opening credits you weren’t watching Dr. Who.

Honourable mention: Blake’s 7. Also really creepy, made excellent use of the brass contingent of the bass family.

Dishonourable mention: Seinfeld. Yes, I can play it. No, I won’t play it.

What Evil is

So anyway, is there some sort of scale of badness that culminates at “Evil”? I think it’s generally accepted that evil is the worst kind of bad but I still feel that it’s not terribly well defined. In a strictly dichotomous sense, it’s the opposite of “Good”, but there are numerous superlative terms that exceed “good” in their representation of goodness. If we go back to the concept of a scale, then it might be possible to talk about Good and Evil in strictly paradigmatic terms, so that on one end is the most Evil thing/act imaginable, and at the other end the most Good thing/act imaginable.

Presumably, then, in the middle is “Neutral”, neither Good nor Evil. I’m struggling to think of something that would fall under that category. Beige, maybe. The vacuum of space. Ricky Ponting’s retirement. I really don’t know.

The thing about this scale (which, incidentally is making me think of this which is very distracting) is how it can be made divisible. How much easier is it to define “slightly good” than “slightly evil”? How much further up the scale of Good is “Fantastic” than “Wonderful”? This, at least, is relatively easy to answer. What’s happened is those two words in particular, but also “Awesome” and “Brilliant” and others, have ended up being misappropriated by lazy and unimaginative language users and mixed into a slurry of words that in some sense or other relate to the relative goodness of something. That’s not what they meant originally, it’s just how they’ve come to be used.

So let’s return to the paradigms: At one end of the scale is the most evil thing/act of which one can conceive, and at the other is the most good thing/act of which one can conceive. Now, St. Anselm, in his Proslogion presented his ontological proof of God’s existence. The gist of it, if you can’t be bothered following the link to Wikipedia, is that if God is something than which nothing greater can be conceived, then surely it’s greater if such a thing exists in reality. Ergo, God exists in reality. QED. Atheists and other philosophers (such as myself) like to poke fun at this argument in all sorts of imaginative and entertaining ways. But then atheists also like to quote Epicurus in somewhat unfair terms because it suits their needs. Both arguments fall down in similar ways but you know those kooky atheists, they just don’t care. When there’s a cheap shot to be had, they’ll have it, by gum! (Just as an aside, the sport of atheist baiting, whilst generally thought to be outlawed under anti-trolling legislation no-one really takes seriously, is actually a wholesome sport the whole family can enjoy. Why not give it a try?)

I don’t know how helpful it is to draw a comparison between Anselm and our scale of Good and Evil, except to say that by using this same logic, if the most Evil thing of which one could conceive actually happened in the world, then it would actually be the most Evil thing, and therefore the real definition of Evil itself. The same applies to the notion of Good.

“Ah ha!” I hear you exclaim, “This notion of what is Good and what is Evil is entirely subjective! There’s no way humanity could possibly agree upon what’s most Good or most Evil!”

Well, quite.

Let’s take humanity out of the equation, then. Let’s try and conceive of what is Good and what is Evil in a universe minus humanity.

Tricky… How about just trying to conceive of the universe minus humanity?

Can’t be done. Mr. Descartes told us that at the end of the day, the mere presence of a “thinking thing” to ask the question “So, this is nothingness, eh?” proves that it’s not really nothingness.

So, the “Problem of Evil“. When taken out of a human context, it ceases to be a problem. It’s quite possible to conceive of a universe existing without human beings around to observe it, but utterly impossible to conceive of a universe in which either Good or Evil exist without human beings around to make judgments about the goodness or evilness of things.

Good and Evil are not creations of God, they are concepts created by humans. Some humans at some points in history have believed actions they took to be entirely Good, whereas others thought they were Evil. Taken out of human context, they are merely actions. We don’t call tigers evil for killing and eating furry animals, even human animals, furry or otherwise. But Hannibal Lechter? Evil as an EVIL THING. Strangely, cannibalism in “primitive cultures” generally isn’t seen as evil, just “primitive”. Hitler is generally attributed responsibility for the deaths of around six million people, and is thought to be Evil personified. The Spanish ‘flu pandemic claimed nearly 50 million lives but isn’t considered evil. Why? Because we believe Hitler was motivated to do bad things, whereas the ‘flu virus is just a virus, and doesn’t have motivations.

Perspective is everything.

So, in the end, what has been the point of this little ramble? Just to address these ideas of Good and Evil and give them some perspective. Calling someone or something (e.g. a country or government) Good or Evil is meaningless, because those terms rely upon a moral point of view that is far from universal. Besides, you can’t have one without the other, and in the space between these two opposite concepts are innumerable other concepts that better and more effectively describe the world around us. We’re better off trying to explore those concepts and the vocabulary that go with them, than to try and paint the world in black and white.

Ramble on!

Responsibility, Accountability, Initiation and Reason

Events in my private life have recently led me to pondering the concept of personal accountability. It’s a sticky subject, for a number of reasons. What does it mean to be held to account for one’s actions? Does it differ from taking responsibility for one’s actions? If it does, it’s in a very subtle way, which is part of the stickiness. I’ve learned that responsibility is, at least in an interpersonal sense, rather a subjective notion. It seems to rely upon whether or not an individual is prepared to accept responsibility for their actions. If they refuse to accept responsibility for their actions, then they cannot be held to account for them. At least, they will refuse to be held to account for them in the same way that they refuse to accept responsibility for them. I’m sure anybody reading this will be familiar with the scenario I’m describing.

Now, in civilised society we have laws, and officers of the law, whose duties include enforcing personal accountability in the form of the limitation, in some form or other, of an individual’s freedom. This might take the form of a fine, a community based order, or even a prison sentence. It is thought that through the process of administering the law of the land an individual is brought to the realisation that they are responsible for their actions and have been brought to account for them accordingly. It’s not a perfect system, I know. It would seem that being told by a judge and a jury of their peers that they are responsible for some action does not necessarily mean that an individual accepts that responsibility, even after they have been held to account for it. It’ll do, however, for the interests of society. Society likes to see that justice is being carried out.

In the case of interpersonal relationships it is somewhat different. We generally can’t force people to accept responsibility for their actions without being in breach of the law ourselves. So where does that leave us? Why, with rational discourse, of course. It is possible that an individual can be encouraged to share the view of another if they are prepared to enter into a rational discussion of the matter. It might go something like this:

Arthur: “Bill, I think you shouldn’t have told Fred that he was a noodle-brain.”

Bill: “But Arthur, Fred forgot to bring his knee-pads to training again. It’s happening often and it’s very frustrating.”

A: “I understand that, but when you called Fred a noodle-brain it hurt his feelings. Is it worth hurting someone just to express your frustration about their forgetfulness?”

B: “Well, I suppose not. I didn’t want to hurt Fred’s feelings, I really just wanted him to realise how annoyed I was feeling so that maybe next time he would try harder to remember his knee-pads.”

A: “I’m confident Fred would accept that as being the truth. Perhaps you could pay him a visit, or call him and explain your position?”

B: “Yes, I should also apologise for hurting his feelings, I feel bad about doing that.”

In a perfect world, everyone would be of a rational disposition and would conduct themselves in an entirely rational manner. Our world is far from perfect, so a more likely scenario would be:

A: “Bill, you’re a bastard for calling Fred a noodle-brain.”

B: “Blow it out your ear, Arthur. You’re not the boss of me.”

OR

B: “No I didn’t, who told you that?”

OR

B: “Well Fred told me you play with dolls.”

and so on…

In the interpersonal sphere of experience, we have traditionally broken ourselves up into neat groupings called “families”, and we have used these family structures as microcosmic societies, with their own systems of justice. Parents would lay down the law, children would adhere to the law, order was maintained. This is still the case in some families, and in some cultures more so than in others. In the West, generally speaking, the family unit is breaking down, due largely to increased mobility of the workforce, increased divorce rates and commercial television. Well, the first two, anyway. Perhaps I should have added the advent of “aged care facilities”. Anyway, there have always been alternatives to the family unit when it comes to interpersonal relationships. Sometimes we will group ourselves according to interests or beliefs. Religions, charitable organisations, clubs and societies, sports teams and such can act upon us in different ways. Sometimes they stand as intermediaries between the greater society and the family. Sometimes they have hierarchical structures similar to both families and society.

I read an excellent article recently that looked at the nature of initiation in a spiritual sense. It looked in detail primarily at self-initiation of various kinds. What was lacking was some insight into the nature of initiation into a tradition such as Wicca. There are two distinct qualities that differ from self-initiation: taking oaths before one’s gods and other people, and making a commitment to a group. A Wiccan group, or coven, is hierarchical in its structure in much the same way as in a family or in society as a whole. But when one is initiated one is bound to that group by oaths that honour not only the tradition but also one’s fellows within that tradition. Witches who work in covens will often report that after a time they become attuned to their coveners both emotionally and spiritually. The relationships formed in this manner can tend to be intense and highly charged, and in the past the general rule was that one wouldn’t socialise informally with one’s coveners. This was to avoid public blow-ups of energy that more rightly belongs in the controlled environment of a circle. It’s not a perfect system either, and unfortunately many a personal relationship has been damaged or broken because uncontrolled energies spilled out into the private lives of witches.

Because one has taken oaths, and because one is bound to a group of other minds, personal responsibility is of the utmost importance. Within the coven structure interpersonal disagreements can be brought forward and at that point the parties involved are obliged to conduct themselves in a rational manner, and it is the responsibility of those further up the hierarchy to maintain an objective viewpoint and to ensure that the dispute is resolved in a fair manner to all parties. Again, it’s not a perfect system and it’s been my experience that on several occasions even people in this situation can simply refuse to accept responsibility for their actions and hence cannot be brought to account. However in these instances there are other minds to consider, and there are often repercussions felt throughout the group when one member goes awry, not to mention the fact that oaths have been taken.

Now someone can have a bit of a tizzy without breaking oaths, that’s not the issue here. But the question arises that if not for the betterment of oneself why does one seek a spiritual path? I have written before on the qualities necessary to be spiritually “upright”, as it were, but I shall add to that the necessity for self-exploration. “Know Thyself”, the seeker at the Temple of Delphi was told. “The unexamined life is not worth living”, Socrates said. These are fundamental tenets not only of philosophy but also spirituality. The only explanation as to why someone wouldn’t behave rationally is if they are unable to, for whatever reason. Perhaps they are mentally incapable. Perhaps they are emotionally incapable. Irrational refusal to accept responsibility for one’s actions seems to point towards an unwillingness to acknowledge something about oneself. That’s certainly been my experience. People who are afraid to look into themselves and examine what they find closely also tend to be the people who will deflect rational enquiry and apportion blame where it isn’t due.

We all do this, or have done this at one time or another. Whilst recently I have had cause to call out one person on their appalling behaviour and lack of personal accountability, I’ve also had to acknowledge that I had been at fault and allowed my behaviour to adversely affect another. It was uncomfortable and difficult to do, but also completely necessary. I could have adopted an attitude of belligerent denial of my culpability but what would it achieve? In the end, I’d have only been deceiving myself.

So finally, here’s a question for you: What is the purpose of reason if there’s no-one to reason with? To my mind, right now at least, I contend that individualism, especially in the form of the ego, is in fact the enemy of reason.

Shameless Self-Promotion

These three words seem to be something of a cliche these days, but nevertheless, I’m going to promote the band I play bass in. We’re called The Mersons, we recorded a demo earlier this year and after the singer and drummer finished meddling with it, it ended up sounding like this.

http://soundcloud.com/the-mersons/sets/the-mersons-demo-1

 

Phil: Internalising Man of Mediocrity

It was just getting dark as Phil fumbled for his keys and attempted to kick the gate shut behind him; an almost balletic manoeuvre he’d never quite perfected. Each and every time Phil reminded himself that the process would be a lot less troublesome if he’d just close the gate in a more careful fashion before reaching for his keys. But each and every time Phil tried to emulate the one and only time he’d successfully completed the routine. On that occasion he imagined that to the casual observer (or even a rapt observer, he didn’t mind which) he would have appeared to be the kind of dexterous, athletic and cock-sure kind of man he’d only ever really seen on television. He’d even ended with a flourish, twirling his keys on their ring around his index finger as, say, a sunburnt and hard-faced cowboy might have done with his six-shooter. “Kapow!” he almost said. But he didn’t. Because nobody saw it happen.

Unabashed, Phil still tried to return to past glories as he made his way into his house, and unerringly failed to pull it off. On more than one occasion, there had been a spectator present to enjoy the show, and not one of them missed the opportunity to remind Phil of it whenever they saw him.

“Whoah, steady on there, mate!” One would say, whilst mimicking an exaggerated (Phil thought) impersonation of a man ungracefully losing his balance.

“Fallen into any nice rose bushes recently?” Another quipped.

Izzaaak, who lived two doors down with his parents, would bray, “Bah-hahahahaha LOSER!” with the kind of cruel derision that can only be mastered by an eleven year old. Phil would console himself on these occasions by noting how Izzaaak would hold up his left hand with thumb and finger forming the letter “L” on his forehead, and that this was wrong and made him look foolish, because to everyone else the “L” was back-to-front.

This time Phil at least managed to stay upright and out of the foliage, and upon regaining his balance closed the gate carefully and opened his front door. Of this he was grateful, because this evening was no ordinary evening: He was expecting company.

Of the female variety.

It’s probably a little unfair to imply that Phil’s interactions with women were infrequent, because he worked with several women (all of whom despised him in an utterly irrational way, as you may recall, for simply being competent and totally unconcerned with them) and also visited his sister and her family every so often. He thought the lady at the shops was quite nice and they would chat about trivial things like what her husband might have been up to because he came in late last night and don’t even get me started on those bloody kids! In truth Phil found those conversations quite terrifying and often felt his participation was due simply to the fact that he was paralysed with fear. He certainly didn’t do much of the talking. This led the lady in the shop to conclude he was “a good listener”, although he secretly wished her impression of him was more that of “a fast runner”.

Anyway, tonight Phil was playing host to Phyllis, a woman he’d met under circumstances that she had likened to the kind of kooky plot lines one found in Hollywood romantic comedies (or rom-coms, as Phyllis had said, to Phil’s instant distaste) and she would often re-tell the story to Phil as if he hadn’t been there. What had actually happened was this: Phil was sitting in the park a block down from his office, eating a sandwich (egg and lettuce) and wishing the stray dog that had sat at his feet would go away and stop psyching him out for a bit of his lunch. Phyllis happened by at that moment and mistakenly thought the dog belonged to Phil. She remarked upon how “cute” and “sweet” the dog was as Phil smiled uncomfortably at her and nodded. Some time later, when he felt Phyllis had stopped talking for longer than it took to draw breath, Phil was at pains to explain the mix-up, that the dog wasn’t his and in fact he would rather it hadn’t chosen him or his sandwich as its prey that afternoon. Phyllis listened and when Phil had finished she laughed good-naturedly at length about the humorous nature of the situation. Then she told the dog “shoo!” and it dutifully trotted away, much to Phil’s relief and astonishment. After they had parted Phil pondered briefly how out of the ordinary this encounter had been but by the time he had returned to his cubicle he was once again focused on his windows.

“What a wholly uninteresting Hollywood rom-com that would make,” one might surmise, and one would undoubtedly be correct. But that’s not the end of the story. Later that evening, after lengthy deliberation and several false starts, Phil signed up for one of those online dating services he’d heard so much about. It took an unspeakably long time to fill out the various questionnaires and endless forms but he persisted and after a time was browsing through prospective “dates” like a seasoned professional. For a moment he considered that being a seasoned professional at browsing online dating websites probably meant you weren’t enjoying much success in the actual dating part of the process, but he shooed that thought away much as Phyllis had with the dog earlier. After a few evenings spent in pursuit of a suitably compatible woman he plucked up the courage to make arrangements with someone who seemed very nice. They were to meet at a local cafe for a coffee and chat, which seemed to Phil to be suitably innocuous, and public enough to ensure a swift exit was possible should things not work out. At two o’clock on that Saturday afternoon Phil went to Café Frappé and chose a seat outside, under an umbrella. After a few minutes he remembered that sitting outside a cafe was a singularly unpleasant experience and found a table just inside the door. He sat there for what seemed an age, politely deflecting the serving staff until they politely offered to show him the door unless he purchased something. After an hour had passed he began to suspect that perhaps this date wasn’t going according to plan. His mind began to conjure up images of what might have gone wrong, why Leanne – his date – hadn’t shown up or called him to say she was running late.

Am I doing this wrong? he asked himself. Should I be calling her, or would that seem a bit forward and creepy? Phil had learned from reading magazines in the waiting room at the dentist that being “creepy” was something to be avoided. The trouble was that it seemed a difficult condition to define, and seemed rather too dependent upon circumstances and subjective opinion to be something he could be sure of avoiding. What was “creepy” to one person may be “showing some concern” to another. After another half-hour Phil had resolved to call Leanne and find out what the problem was, maybe he could offer to help or something. He reached into his pocket for his phone. It wasn’t there. He stood up and began patting himself down, in case he’d inadvertently put his phone in a different pocket. But still, it was nowhere to be found. Realising it would be pointless to linger, Phil paid for his obligatory orange juice and made to leave. Just as he passed one of the other tables near the door, a man moved his chair out as he stood and Phil’s foot became entangled in it. As he lost his balance he had enough presence of thought to notice that the man was wearing a particularly incredulous expression and was laughing as he said “Whoah! Steady on there, mate!”

Phil performed a kind of pirouette and was fortunate that the glass door was already open as he twirled toward it, and then out into the street, only to then collide with a passer-by. It took him a moment to register that he had fallen onto someone, a moment longer to register that it was a woman and by the time he’d figured out that it was in fact Phyllis, the dog-whisperer from the park, he was on the verge of catatonic shock from the ignominy of the encounter and the bizarre nature of this convergence of fate.

Phyllis was very understanding and barely injured and laughed in her good-natured way about the incident which made Phil feel slightly less than mortified with embarrassment. It was the coincidental, rather than the accidental nature of their meeting like this that made Phyllis draw comparisons with Hollywood movies, which puzzled Phil. Anyway, Phyllis invited him to go with her to see a friend play in her band, who were called The Olecranon Process, at a local venue and they had a great time. Well, Phyllis had a great time listening to the music, dancing and singing along; whereas Phil enjoyed the fact that it was too loud for small talk, so he could have a couple of glasses of house white and not interact with Phyllis beyond smiling at her, more with relief that she hadn’t called the police when he wound up flattening her earlier than with any affection or guile. Phyllis seemed happy with that and at the end of the gig she breathlessly told Phil how much fun she’d had and that if he didn’t mind she’d like to see him again.

Phil rapidly played out a number of possible scenarios in his mind, but his lack of experience in this sort of situation left him at odds with his feeling that he ought to reciprocate Phyllis’ kind invitation and general goodwill and understanding.

“Do you like pizza?” he asked.

As it happened, Phyllis did. Very much.

To be continued…

People problems

The problem with people is that they all can’t be alike.

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