Provincial Letters

Far from the mad crowds of the city, Blaise Pascal passed comment on the strange behaviour of this urban contemporaries in his Provincial Letters. The connection between them and this blog is somewhat tenuous.

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Location: Grimsby, N E Lincolnshire, United Kingdom

My star sign in Superstition. And I didn't believe in reincarnation last time, either. The only thing I can't tolerate is intolerance. I am a fanatical ant-fanaticist. I am bigotted only where bigots are concerned. I am a fundamentalist atheist. I'm proud to be a product of evolution; I know it in my genes.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Posted @ 21:33Rob L's Guitar - Follow Up

There's a project afoot to raise money to help Rob L get a new guitar. Rather than repeat all the details here, go to RoadCrew PA Hire or Provincial Music for more information.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Posted @ 01:25Just another day...

To Tina's last evening, invited to join Rob L in having a threesome sing-a-long. Just an evening of song and chat — et le chat est Lily (sort of translinguistic pun there, folks). Tina's had a cold — bad one — for a while and hasn't done any singing. I haven't been round for a while, haven't seen Rob, either.

It's a cold night when I venture out, some wind but dry. The sky looks like the threat of a storm without any vicious intent: a sort of fluffy-pillow Hannibal Lecture who works for Shelter. It's nice to be going out, visiting someone, being part of something.

I arrive first — a-ah — and catch up on news with Tina until the Scottish one appears. We haggle about who is going out for the beer and Rob looses and volunteers. There also happens to be a bottle of Pimm's No1 premixed with lemonade — left over from Burn's Night when Tina's sister brought it round — which Tina and I tuck into whilst Rob is engaged in beer procurement. Yes, it's a summer drink and this is a cold February evening, but it's refreshing and available.

We drink the Pimm's with ice, naturally. It tastes like a slightly bitter lemonade, belying the 5.4% alcohol content. Anyway, at a stretch, it's a fruit based drink and can be regarded as healthy — one of our "five-a-day", perhaps. Rob returns and we all light up a cigarette (terrible habit, but someone's got to do it). On the stereo we have Buffy Saint Marie, Helian Keys and Lily Allen over the evening. On guitars, me and Rob; on voice, all three of us.

The songs range over our own stuff, Tom Paxton, The Kinks, etc., etc. and we have a good time. I know I've moaned (on and on) on my MySpace Blog about how badly I've been performing recently, but I surprise myself by being quite reasonable this evening. Perhaps it's something to do with the beer; perhaps it's because tonight was impromptu, arranged at the last minute. Who knows?

We drink beer, we sing songs, we tell bad jokes and laugh at them. We have a convivial and social evening. We relax. All those silly cares about the pressures of life are far away. Rob plays some lovely lead guitar on Parrish Counsel (the one about my dad, for those who've heard it) — feel a bit more part of the world for that.

Eventually, the evening wraps itself away in our mutual tiredness and Rob and I take our leave to walk to our respective beds through a chill, slicing, icy rain. I don't envy Rob his much longer journey. Sometimes, the world can be a lovely place.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Posted @ 20:48Letter I

14th February, 2007

Dear J,

Well, the year is already a month-and-a-half old and I haven't written for quite a while. I thought it was time I gave you some more of my usual advice — as usual, it's just me trying to pass on some of the things that I think I've learnt in the half-a-century I've been on this planet; take it or leave it, it's up to you. I'm not here to tell you what to think, just to warn you about the strange ways of some of the other inhabitants of the Earth; most of them aren't bad people but they can get caught up in some weird and wacky behaviour.

You might have seen the recent advertisements on TV encouraging you to "talk to Frank" about drugs; in particular the one about the brain shop and the effects of stronger strains of marijuana on that part of the body. What I want to talk to you about is something else which is coming in stronger strains and can affect you brain in a subtly destructive manner. It is everywhere and it is quite legally delivered to children from the earliest age. It is even widely distributed in schools with the explicit financial support of the government. The pushers of this product are welcomed by all levels of society and are encouraged to carry out their indoctrination of minors into the use of this product not only without criticism but with active consent. The pushers prey upon the most defenceless in our society: children; the emotionally scarred; the poor and the weak.

There are some people who would claim that this product is neither harmful nor pernicious; that it is beneficial — and necessary — to a healthy and fulfilling human life. However, this product is behind much of the violence and intolerance inherent in modern society. It supports the exclusion of non-participants and attempts to impose its will on all levels through legislation, political influence and emotional blackmail and bribery. If teachers were found to be promoting specific political ideologies with the same force and support with which they deliver this product, there would be uproar and they would be sacked on the spot. If casinos were to be opened in schools, the country would revolt. If marijuana was forced upon children in the same manner as this product, the promoters would be arrested and pilloried. And yet, if one portrays this product in anything other than a reverent manner one risks censorship, at best, and prosecution, at worst. Making jokes about it is, of course, thoroughly reprehensible; especially if you do not subscribe to the product itself. One is forced to tolerate it, even though it, in itself, is intolerant.

What, I can hear you asking, is this appalling product which is so available and approved within our so-called caring society? What is this thing that is so dangerous and yet so approved of? What could be so harmful and yet so adored that it is considered not only safe but also desirable to be inflicted upon children.

Quite simply, my dear, it is religion. It is illegal to teach a particular set of political beliefs to school children and yet we have schools that are allowed — nay, encouraged — to teach a single religious belief. And this belief is allowed to encourage intolerance and discrimination, divisive manipulation of adherents and promises of reward without quoting the odds. The promoters of religion are allowed to use techniques of persuasion which would be pounced upon by the media if they were used by business; they are legally immune from sane, rational or logical appraisal and can claim special status in the hearts and minds of legislators and administrators; they can question the evidence of science without the necessity of argument but are free to campaign against science using supposed evidence which they refuse to allow to be questioned.

I wouldn't want you to mistake religion for faith. Faith is, quite simply — to quote a source I have been unable to locate — a belief in something you haven't seen yet. My faith in the existence of the Great Pyramid at Giza is like that: one day I'll see it, probably; and there is plenty of non-circumstantial evidence which has no recourse to singular, unverifiable sources that my faith is justified. I can't see any problem, either, in a personal faith in some sort of supreme being. But the sheer audacity, pomposity and arrogance of insisting that this faith is required by anyone else — and inflicted on those without the capacity to assess the evidence — I find as reprehensible and disgusting as the selling of hallucinogenic drugs to minors.

The scariest thing is, of course, that most of the people attempting to deliver religion to the masses think they are doing the right and proper thing and that they are, aside from this flaw, quite nice and decent people. They're not driven by any evil intent but simply seem to have had their brains fried by this strong and dangerous drug. Beware their plausibility and directness, their apparent honesty and certain sincerity — they are out to get you hooked as well.

The world is complex and beautiful enough to excite the mind and the passions without introducing an unprovable mythology to explain it. Your journey through it will be a thrilling roller-coaster without the necessity of the artificial stimulation of religion. Avoid this addiction at all costs.

When you friends and mentors speak glowingly of religion, question it. It is not a path you want to follow; you will become a vegetable spouting the words and messages of others, driven by and ever greater need to fulfil the craving for the righteous way. Don't shout; don't proclaim; don't hate; but do reject.

So, that's my advice for now. Whenever you see those anti-drug advertisements on TV, remember that the same warnings apply to religion, too. And when you've learnt a little more about life and the human body, you'll find that drugs have not inflicted as much pain, suffering and death as religion and they are relatively harmless in comparison.

Take care, love,


Sunday, February 11, 2007

Posted @ 22:49Hi China

One of the many widgets I have attached to this blog not only counts the number of visitors it has but also where they come from. Last week Provincial Letters had a sudden influx of visitors from China — on 6th/7th February there were 19 visitors from Chinese servers. It not only happened to me, Beth's Blog has noticed the same phenomenon.

Now, the Chinese government are notoriously vigilant in their monitoring and censorship of internet access (with the complicity of the large international content and service providers) and I wonder what happened. Given the brief period over which the visits happened I wonder if either (a) the political firewalls all went down at once or (b) the operators of the political firewalls suddenly conceived a desire to monitor the content of mine and Beth's blogs. It could be the start of a new conspiracy theory. I'm sure my regular readers will be able to fill in the details.

Post Scriptum

Thanks for all the nice comments about the photographs in my previous post. I'm pleased you enjoyed them as much as I enjoyed taking them.
Oh, and I came across the photograph to right on Bits & Pieces and it made me giggle.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Posted @ 21:00Alexandra Dock Sunset

It was cold, frosty cold; chilled air with no trace of wind. The sun was orange on the skyline, bright in the steel-blue winter air. Just a short walk over Corporation Bridge, watching the water — a still high tide — and taking photographs as the mood took me. Feeling moderately pleased with myself as at least two of the tunes I've been working with seemed to have crystallised into workable songs. Not exactly the most cheery of songs, but the achievement is in the completion; only time — and an audience — will pass judgement on their quality. Damn it, I know that, in the end, it'll be me who judges them the most harshly.

The bridge — a memorial to the dock's busier days — rises in mechanical splendour; more solid than the memories, real and imagined, that it invokes. Once, this dock echoed to Slavic voices, bringing timber from northern Russia. Once, this dock was a place of industry rather than retail, a place closer to making; a place for content rather than form and fashion. All too easy to dream when there's no conversation and when people, tight and safe and warm in their little cars, are detached from the crisp atmosphere of this fading February day. All too easy to wax lyrical — with consequent verbal effluvium — when all the world is boxed and hidden.

A rare encounter with a stranger: he stops and asks if I'm looking for the diver. I mumble. He says there was a diver in the dock earlier. I wonder if he means a human or a bird, but don't press the question and let him walk on, leaving me unenlightened. Bundled against the cold, the other pedestrians glance at me — mobile phone in hand — snapping the sights of the late afternoon. Too polite to question; too curious not to sneak a glance. A group of young lads comes towards me, boistrous and chirpy. I'm ashamed to say my first reaction is fear: remembering that encounter last year when I had my phone stolen and got a clout in the face for standing up to another group of teenage boys. But my shame is enough to calm me and I smile as they pass. Note to self: the world — and the behaviour of people in it — is better than you imagine.

Walking on, I think of going for a beer; just think, my pockets lack the wherewithal for such an adventure today. Content myself with a small purchase of crumpets for tea. Rehearse the lyrics to my new songs in my head, as many lines as I can remember. I'm determined to dispense with sheets of words in front of me when I take them out in public for the first time. It's far too easy to leave this chore lying in the "to-do" list and then becoming dependent on those printed and hand-written sheets. Surely I can't have exhausted my brain's long-term memory capacity just yet.

Now I start to worry again about the shabbiness of my recent public guitar playing. Sitting alone I am — reasonably — competent with the mechanics and the sound satisfying to my biased ears. Sitting or standing in public, my fingers not so much have a mind of their own as become detached from the control of any mind whatsoever and disappear on their own, unique intergalactic trip to planet Incompetence. The little monster on my shoulder calls out "this is the bit you always cock up, bet you do it again". And, sure enough, I do:

The memories come back to haunt me
They haunt me like a curse
Is a dream a lie if it don't come true?
Or is it something worse?

Bruce Springsteen; The River

And now the gremlins get busy in my psyche again: this is all a bit like your life, ain't it? But sod self-pity for a game of soldiers — for today, anyway — remember what you have accomplished in the past few days.

And, looking at the photographs, I remember the gorgeous thrill of the outdoor air, cold as it was, and the pure joy of seeing the hard light of the sun in that pure blue sky. It was a short walk through a short winter day, but it made the day. Sitting at the computer, warm and full of crumpets and tea, I feel less fragile. That seems to be enough for now.

In the end it's all academic really. I've had a reasonable day: a little conversation, a brief but beautiful walk and some lyrics. On the grand scale of things it doesn't amount to much but it made my day — it was my day. Also managed to take some photographs and string together a few words to help me remember it.

Now the day's over, I'm still wishing for a beer and a bit of, possibly loud and trivial, company. But that'll have to wait for another day when the ancient gods finally make a re-appearance. I'll be content with TV — A Knight's Tale is on Film4 later — and tea and some guitar practice (and a cigarette or three). Must make some effort to record some of my songs for that album I've been threatening everyone with for the past few years. Really must. That would be an achievement.

Ahh, memory: somewhere in the back of my cobwebbed memory there's some fragments of Eliot. Give me a moment with Google...

That's it, "and then the lighting of the lamps"...

The winter evening settles down
With smell of steaks in passageways.
Six o'clock.
The burnt-out ends of smoky days.
And now a gusty shower wraps
The grimy scraps
Of withered leaves about your feet
And newspapers from vacant lots;
The showers beat
On broken blinds and chimney-pots,
And at the corner of the street
A lonely cab-horse steams and stamps.
And then the lighting of the lamps.

T S Eliot; Preludes I

You can always trust in Eliot for an apposite quotation.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Posted @ 19:50Poker, Golf & Madonna

There appears, at first sight, little to connect the three subjects listed in the title of this post. But this is an optical illusion. These three share many common features, which this brief note will attempt to elucidate. My thoughts began with the first two items.

I've written about golf, before, and this is not the time — nor, if the truth be known, the place — to supplement those earlier observations, not the least reason being the utter tedium of even thinking about golf. Poker shares many of the features of golf: inordinate quantities of TV broadcast time are devoted to it; the practitioners are pompous and snobbish concerning their pastime; and it serves little or no sane purpose other than occupying minds which would be otherwise dormant.

It was whilst I was considering these concordances of spirit between these two monsters of modern life that I was nagged by the remembrance of at least one other subject which displayed the same features. Naturally, Ricky Gervais sprang to mind, particularly with regard to all being overrated clap-trap. However, Gervais is not strictly the same as golf or poker since he is incapable of occupying the mind in any capacity whatsoever. True, he does involve the mind-numbing repetition of otherwise mundane actions, but this is not enough.

No, dear reader, it was necessary to look further afield: what was it that consumed its adherents to the level of obsession? What was it that managed to mutate its disciples into evangelists for some supposed life-affirming philosophy which involves thousands and thousands of images and words which are simply the same thing repeated over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again and again and again and again... ...I think my meaning is clear.

A then, inspiration struck: of course, that sub-talent Madonna; that over-blown excuse for a singer who serves absolutely no function whatsoever. Since she was forced down our throats in the 1980's she has repeatedly failed to produce any work of any worth whatsoever, but the music critics and cultural commentators still fawn over her as if she were the personification of some truly supreme orgasm. She is, of course, extremely dull and ordinary but possesses a good PR department and a gullible public.

Madonna shares with golf and poker, the undoubted privilege of being things we would not miss if they vanished from the Earth forever; to be sure, they are things we wouldn't bother to invent if they didn't already exist. When I think about it, I realise the world would be no different without these three items — except of course for the lack of bores obsessing about their significance, greatness and all-round wonderfulness.

Sometimes I want to become one of those old-time mad scientists who invent machines from unlikely components which perform srtunning and amazing alterations in reality. My patent PGM-Remover would be a great hit.