I am moved by Lady Percy 's expression of love. CLICK HERE - see if you agree.
Otherwise my novels, short stories, verse, family, music, memories, vulgar interests, detestations,
responses, apologies. I hold posts to 300 words* having found less is better than more.
I re-comment on comments and re-re-re-comment on re-re-comments.
* One exception: short stories.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Chance'd be a fine thing

Indulge me with this.

I'm into the home straight with my novel, Second Hand. This morning I had someone address Francine in words which took on added meaning and immediately I recognised I had a strand of the final chapter in place. I went to lunch damned pleased.

I decided to play some music. From  a wide selection of Haydn string quartets I picked one at random; it turned out to be possibly the loveliest - the second movement being the melody for the German national anthem, played slowly and yearningly. I sang along.

As I did so I recalled my best friend, Richard, dead these last 17 years from motor neurone disease. He shaped most of my musical tastes and was a Haydn enthusiast. Said H was frequently superior to Mozart. I reflected on the link between Richard and the music then playing; even more so on the fact that I - guided years ago by Richard - had been the instrument that had today reached for the Haydn. An accidental tribute to someone I owed a lot to.

I thought about another best friend, Joe. Remembered how, on the top deck of a London bus, I had recommended the LvB Grosse Fuge quartet and how Joe had subsequently played it almost until the day he died. How he, on the other hand, had introduced me to the novelist George Eliot, how I'd read through everything (Felix Holt the Radical, re-read last year) ending with her masterpiece, Middlemarch.

A week or so ago I had a feeble go at defining happiness then gave up. But the above cat's cradle seems full of that elusive quality.

Friday, 27 March 2015

Out of my depth

Sorry, I misled you all. Roger belonged to a non-photographic era; this is a not-very-close approximation. Far too active for one thing
I'm writing about Roger simply because it's so difficult. He was my parents' dog and may have arrived about the same year I did: 1935. If so he and I co-existed without mutual recognition for at least five years. I have no connected memories of this period. For all I know we may have harboured a rhinoceros as a pet.

I started becoming aware of things in 1940 which, you will observe, is not entirely surprising. I first knowingly met Roger beneath the dining room table; I'd gone there when I heard my father tell my mother the country was at war. I have the impression Roger was a hound rather than a mere dog. He had a rough orange coat and his head tapered into a disappointing, grizzled snout.

At some point I started to tease Roger, a general tendency I still haven't completely suppressed. I remember the wounded look on his face. Then he snarled. My mother uttered a corrective noise and, pigheaded though I was, I saw Roger's next reaction would be to snap. I didn't tease him again for several hours, never pushing him beyond snarling. A dull family anecdote ensued, my mother announcing from time to time that Roger hadn't bitten me. True but uninteresting. There were lots of things Roger never did.

My mother told me that when I was younger, passing through my non-remembering period, Roger stood up abruptly late one evening, the hair bristling down his spine, and growled. From this my mother advanced a theory about the existence of ghosts. In her thirties she took to writing novels and poetry.

Roger was eventually "put down", my first experience of this phrase. Even then I recognised it didn't work as a euphemism - the heartlessness was in no way disguised.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Fool's paradise

The Guardian colour supplement (a dubious Saturday blessing) always carries a Q&A-format piece about some celebrity or other. Based on the same set of questions, such as: When were you happiest?

This is shrewder than it looks. Since The Guardian is aimed at smarty-boot readers (RR included) this requires a smarty-boot answer, neither glutinous nor obvious. Thus incipient bores who reply "Now, as of this moment." are marked down as missing the point, even if it happens to be true. Lying is allowed as is heartlessness.

The question also tests the nature of happiness and its duration. I might say I was happiest when calm-faced M, resident in Bingley, the Aire Valley, Yorkshire, agreed to come out with me on what in those days was called "a date" - my first ever. That the outing was a waste of time for all concerned just shows that happiness is - and must be - evanescent. As a mendacious, smarty-boots Guardian reader I draw back from pretending I was happiest on this 1955 occasion.

Guardian readers love to promote their own intellect. So I might well say I'm never happier than when responding to the challenge of writing plausible sentences. An utter nonsense, of course, since no one but a fool writes for pleasure.

Drinking one of my father's bottles of Big Five claret? Nah, there was always the predictable aftermath.

Listening to a late LvB quartet? I can never avoid a poncy feeling of self-consciousness.

Emerging from the southern end of the Chunnel in early June? Not on your life; France is not a happy country.

Finishing Proust? Who’m I going to tell? Another Guardianista?

Happy to discover I have never been happy? Now that's more The Guardian style. More please.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Boxing clever

Astronomy's not really my bag.The distances are unimaginable, the universe resembles a bomb-site, theories tend to be over-speculative, and myth-lovers got in first on the names. But I couldn't, in all conscience, ignore today's solar eclipse.

For one one thing it was so damn convenient: five minutes before I was due to leave for French. Also VR loves the heavens.

So I made us a pinhole viewing camera (above) and we pointed it at the sun from our front driveway. Our neighbours across the street were using sunglasses and smart-phones.

Gradually the bite-shaped slice moved in and VR's delight was my just reward. Yet, there was more. One of the girls opposite, dissatisfied with modern technology, ran across for a look via our viewer, saw the slice and said (Bless her!): "That's cool."

I asked for no other encomium.

ACHES in my back demanded the services of a masseur. The nearest guy turned out to be blind, had fingers classed as weapons, and was built, to quote our friends, "like a brick shithouse." As a novice his chest measurement was in the forties, now the fifties. "For every action," says Sir Isaac, "there must be a reaction."

He shifted my back muscles around as if they were topsoil; the pain was extreme but cleansing. Then he moved down a little and from being merely extreme the pain became grunt-worthy. Astonishingly it also made itself felt on my front, at the bottom of my ribcage - the attachment point for the inter-costals, I believe.

"Now I know what tarmac feels like," I said. He laughed. "Did you expect a pretty girl with a feather?" he asked. No-groan-oh. I didn't.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Take care, you're leaking

To waste time is to admit that that part of our life is meaningless. Shocking! - for time is a non-renewable resource and we cannot know how much we've been allocated.

You know what? Such truisms  are a waste in themselves. Time is lost as a matter of course.

Has your electric kettle got an external tube indicating the level of water within? Good. You choose to boil water for a cup of Bovril. Afterwards is there water left in the tube? If so, you wasted time and electricity.

Your mind is rotting and you opt for Huw Edwards disgorging the News At Ten. You turn on the telly and watch the last ninety seconds of Mrs Brown's Boys. A programme you truly loathe; you could have reflected on Augustine of Hippo's prayer: "Grant me chastity, but not yet." A minute and a half passes irretrievably.

Your computer is slow to boot up. Rather than use Defrag and/or CleanDisk you contemplate your hankie, trying to decide if it should go into the wash. Eventually returning it to your pocket.  What's more you always knew it was dirty.

Ever read an Agatha Christie? And you, a self-confessed intellectual!

Purgatory awaits – only sipping whisky to drink and a video loop of George W. Bush Jr's campaign speeches.


Saint Peter sat by the celestial gate;
His keys were rusty, and the lock was dull,
So little trouble had been given of late;
Not that the place by any means was full.

Third line’s rather terrible - as broken-backed as any mountain. But it's meant to be fun, the clue being "by any means". Perhaps English fun.

Byron (Gosh! It looks like I was wrong).

Monday, 16 March 2015

Two separate score cards

It's been a hard two years for our daughter, Occasional Speeder.
But which is 47-year-old OS, which her 24-year-old daughter, Bella?

My personal ratings for Borderlines Film Festival, just finished.

Winter Sleep (Turkey). Masterfully deconstructed ego in wild Anatolia
Birdman (USA) Frenzy behind scenes on Broadway. Ambitious, witty
Ida (Poland). Jewish nun explores her Holocaust history. Austere, eloquent.
Phoenix (Germany). Established actress/director partnership; concentration-camp survivor competes with pre-war self.


Wild Tales (Argentina). Dark vengeance played out in six hilarious mini-films.
Mr Turner (UK). Three-dimensional, vivid later-years biog of Britain’s greatest painter.
Still Life (UK). Bureaucracy saves souls in SE London. Touching but very English.

La Maison de la Radio (France). Day in life of French radio channel
Whiplash (USA). Frankenstein gets to teach jazz drumming. Often a bit too OTT.
Foxcatcher (USA), Wealthy madman manipulates wrestling world. True but unreal.
Cycling with Molière (France). Actors become their parts in classic play, Le Misanthrope.
Lourdes (France). Is it or isn’t it a medical miracle?  Fascinating authentic background.
Black Coal, Thin Ice (China). Cops and murderers in hideously ugly but persuasive modern China
Effie Gray (UK). Why art-critic John Ruskin preferred writing.
Inherent Vice (USA). Early druggy/PI Pynchon novel becomes astonishingly coherent movie. Funny.

Amour Fou (Austria/Germany). Could Jane Austen accommodate a suicide pact? Perhaps not.
The Duke of Burgundy (UK). Excessive lesbian sado-humiliation among lepidopterists. But beautiful.
A Most Wanted Man
(UK/USA). Disappointingly flat end to  Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s career in treacherous spy fest.
Before I Go to Sleep (UK). Promising start explores amnesia; distintegrates into blood-boltered whodunnit.

Enemy (Canada). Much praised, characterless alter-ego tale. Good camera.
Boyhood (USA). Texan rite of passage: sentimental, setbacks mysteriously overcome.
The Clouds of Cils Maria (France/Switzerland). Out-of-control, shapeless, inferior version of Hollywood classic, All About Eve.
Ex Machina (USA). Inarticulate nerd tests robots for signs of AI. The irony is unacknowledged.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Growing up - haphazardly

 During WW2 my parents moved to the Bradford suburb of Idle. I was ashamed to admit I lived in Idle, fearing I'd be teased, and pretended our house was in nearby Thackley. These days I regret being born so sensitive.

We had a telephone and that was rare - the number Idle 540. Neighbours who lacked phones entered our living room to receive calls, standing around looking uncertain. I don't think we left the room while they used the phone; we were doing them a favour and this was the West Riding, one took the rough with the smooth.

Aged between seven and ten I answered the phone a lot and this proved useful when I took up journalism. Many incoming calls concerned the Airedale Beagles, of which my father was Hon. Sec. I have since wondered whether any came from the woman my father was having an affair with since she was a whipper-in with the Beagles. This lurid detail became an inevitable source of wordplay later on in my life.

When my mother left my father we briefly stayed on with him under chaotic conditions. It was his job to drive us to school on the far side of Bradford but he lingered, sitting on the toilet reading The Daily Mail. We had no clock and to urge him off the toilet I used to pick up the dial-less phone and ask the operator the time. The operator read it out to me from the clock on his office wall. We were often late for school.

Because my father was absent a good deal I used the phone routinely, as if I were a kid in a US movie. Received wisdom said this was an expensive practice while trunk calls (ie, long-distance) could hardly to be contemplated. As far as I can remember this was one of the few failings my father didn't punish me for.