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

Saturday, 25 January 2020

Our equivalent of D-day

Hereford’s Borderline film festival is coming up. Our choices have been made: 20 movies over two weeks. In both 2018 and 2019 we managed 22 but matching the movies against the locations, dates and times is like playing three-dimensional chess and losing badly.

Also there’s Ian, our 6ft 4in grandson. Wherever possible I need to find him leg room.

Ian, VR and I each make our choices and I have the unenviable task of combining the three lists, chopping out those that are impossible. Fairly, that is. Ian makes a special plea for Pain And Glory, the latest by Spain’s great director, Pedro Almodovar - a choice we all share. But it’s only on at three places, all on the same day. One is 31 miles away from our home and another village, equally obscure. We opt for the village hall at Michaelchurch Escley. Because we’ll be arriving there latish we reconnoitre it during daylight. Gonna be difficult.

Booking starts promptly at 10 am at Hereford’s Courtyard Theatre. I arrive at 9.45 and sort of hang around, establishing my presence. “Is there someone ahead of me?” I ask. “Him,” says the booking clerk. I chat with my competitor who’s a good sport and has done Borderline many times.

However, two extra booking clerks have been added and my competitor and I start “even Stephen”. More info about leg-room is now available for the Courtyard where most of the movies appear; I get everything I want and a large sum of money is deducted from my credit card to cover the sixty tickets (see pic).

I email the result to Ian who lives in Luton. He says, “I look forward to seeing the delights of Michaelchurch Escley in the pitch dark.”

Monday, 20 January 2020

Safe stronghold

About twice a year The Good Fairy appears in my dreams. The Good Fairy – GF – let’s call her Guffie - belongs to a severe period of austerity after WW2. When children’s books were vaguely and badly drawn and colour was used sparingly.

She isn’t much to look at. Her pink blob of a head lacks hair and a face. Her legs are even more attenuated, ending in points with no feet and resembling pink sticks of celery. She wears an anonymous long-sleeved white blouse and what was then called a gym skirt, made from compressed zig-zag material similar to the lungs of a piano accordion.

But looks aren’t everything. Guffie appears in dreams when I’m often at my lowest and needing support. She is, after all a young woman, and welcome for that. She speaks softly and encouragingly and her hands – if she had hands instead of sharp points – are used in supplication. Occasionally she has hair, mouse-brown and fine as spider’s web, and this is an especial bonus.

Her greatest asset is that she is willing to share my company. And by implication forgive me for the sins of my adolescence which were manifold and extreme. I infer she goes back into my history though this is never discussed. Her non-existent face carries a gentle – if non-existent – smile. And yes, I know this is hard to follow but this is how it is, I’m not aiming for the Booker Prize.

I’m grateful I have Guffie. She is prescient and knows when to arrive. Over Christmas I was ill and cast down, She was absent then because she has only psychological skills, nothing medical. Perhaps in March some time. I get the feeling she’s read my novels, even those as yet unwritten.

Sunday, 12 January 2020

Gravely among graves

Death's a lonely old
time, ain't it Johannes?
Friends whose blogs I read regularly refer to groups, bands and singers acting as musical milestones throughout their lives. And/or as objects of sexual adoration.

With one or two exceptions (Simon and Garfunkel, Nina Simone, Frank Sinatra) these names are simply names to me. I am aware of them, nothing more. There is no implicit criticism here. I simply travel on a different train, an outdated steam chuffer that trundles along rural routes and spends aeons untended at stations, deserted by staff. Speed is immaterial. I only visit graveyards. To a man (and I fear they all are men) my "milestones" are tombstones.

Living conductors, orchestras, singers and instrumentalists re-animate the works of these long-dead ghosts. Newspaper critics praise or denigrate such "performances" then all is still. My patch represents only a tiny percentage of what constitutes music these days. Even The Guardian, my newspaper, which tries to be even-handed about culture, devotes only a few column inches to this branch of archaeology, and then – ironically - only when the work is "new". By implication, soon to be forgotten.

A bit like being limited to novels written before, say, 1900. Great names, great works but lacking Joyce, Greene, Waugh and Proust.

Minorities like mine may seek comfort in snobbery: “This stuff has survived; it must be good.” – I’ve done it myself. Also much modern popular music is electronically tweaked; for a baritone such sounds are beyond my debutant skills.

Minorities may also pretend to be elite but it really isn’t worth the effort. One friend said classical singers’ voices sounded “artificial”. I sort of agreed.

I enjoy singing; it seems to “complete” me. But this is surely an intimate sensation, probably incommunicable.

Is smoke finally emerging from the chuffer’s chimney? Time for more tombstones.

Monday, 6 January 2020

Nothing like a wet (or two)

Surname of the nearer player is Twelvetrees
Younger daughter’s husband is Gloucester born and bred and has supported the city’s rugby club since the year dot. He talks wittily about being a fan to the point where I mentioned I’d like to join him some Saturday afternoon. 

Why? I’m not much for crowds even at symphony halls. I understand rugby but am far from obsessive. Perhaps because my major interests – writing fiction, learning to sing, speaking French, reading – preclude social contact. This Christmas I received tickets for the local Derby – Gloucester vs. Bath - from daughter Occasional Speeder who promised to drive me, find parking and sit by me for comfort.

I was ill before the game started, got more ill as it progressed, and went straight to bed when I returned home to sleep for a full twelve hours. Enriched by what I had seen.

The second half was lively and Gloucester won. I’m glad they did but in one sense the result was incidental. The memorable action occurred on the terraces. I knew rugby supporters drank during the game but had no idea to what extent. Just before the game started, the empty seats nearby rapidly filled with middle-aged men wearing Gloucester’s cherry-and-white, who had clearly been whiling their time at the bar. Each carried two quart-capacity plastic jugs full of beer (ie, half a gallon per man). Enough to get them to half-time, I surmised. How wrong I was. Within twenty minutes they were getting up, disrupting the seated fans and off for refills.

One wearing what he claimed was a pith helmet (It wasn’t.) managed to miss one of Gloucester’s tries.

I should have been irritated but perhaps mild delirium made me less judgmental. Cheerfulness reigned and nobody got hurt. It occurred to me I lead a very Casaubon life.

Tuesday, 31 December 2019

A classic case?

Irony can be tricky to understand:

● Use of words to express a meaning other than the literal meaning and, esp., the opposite of it.
● Incongruity between actual circumstances and the normal, appropriate or expected result.


● A marriage counsellor files for divorce
● It's ironic that computers break down so often since they're meant to save people time.

And then there's me.

A recent combined cough, common cold, feverish state, left me with a disturbed stomach. But today was singing lesson; I was there on the dot. V produced the score of Schubert's, An die Laute (To the Lute), a song I have never heard, never even heard of. After 60 minutes I sang the two verses in tune, on the beat and adding interpretation. Several big firsts. V nodded, then said: "Good on you. But what you did took it out of you. Look after yourself."

At brunch back home there are rillettes, fatty and a firm favourite. They are intended as a treat. Normally I'd gobble them in a minute but I can't face them. Wrote this as therapy. Don't tell me I'm better off 'cos that'll cause me to grind my teeth, good news only for the dentist.

Monday, 30 December 2019

Down bucolic byways

These two posts, combined as one, are out of sequence. Never mind.

Could be DT or BJ.
Dirty work either
PROPELLED by the soporific, NightNurse, I dreamily joined Trump and a tiny sub-retinue making an improbable visit to a family in Connecticut. My ecstasy (explained in the lyric below) confused Trump and he left me alone. I asked the family for “poetic” additions to the lyric already forming in my mind. Wisely they pointed out the impossibility of defining “poetic” so I completed it without them.

Whence came the observation that
The English language is my mother-tongue?
Did I say so? Or those in subfusc suits?
My dear, I neither know nor give a damn.

What really matters, more than half a wink,
Is what I say and what I am are both
Of woman born. And that’s a small delight
To one who hates the oafish tendency.

It fits. For mothering is cherishing,
And tending to the growth of living things.
Not being soft about development
Of words that shape a self-renewing world.

And is “the mother-tongue” just girly talk
Likely to get up nostrils masculine?
Well I for one can bear the brunt of that.
You can’t? Then go and read Mickey Spillane

FROM MIDDAY Christmas Eve to late on Christmas Day grandson Zach honked explosively like a sea lion. By then he’d infected me and I was coughing so violently my chest wall hurt. My appetite departed; without food I took on an inner chill which rendered me over-sensitive to air flow. At night I fought minor delirium.

VR left for the small bedroom. I felt guilty next morning, and volunteered to adopt her quarantine. But this post isn’t about illness it’s about thermodynamics, sort of.

VR said the light duvet in the small bedroom (usually occupied by younger guests with better circulation than ours) wouldn’t keep enfeebled me warm enough.

In our own bed we operate a duvet apiece and that’s the law. The RAF kiboshed blankets – those cardboard winding sheets. Cellulars turned out to be all theory and no insulation. People whinge about duvets being unsuitable in summer but the same could be said about cotton sheets. Push the duvet aside, I say.

I added my duvet to the single bed and was warm all night even though I didn’t sleep. Subduing the pain was enough (obviously many OTC drugs had passed through my guzzard). Since duvets are mostly air they’re light and soft; this is what you want from a bed. A layered pair adds more air thus more insulation.

Youth’s resilience and a reduced coughing rate encouraged Zach to act as quizmaster in a home version of University Challenge with its near impossible questions on topological maths and ex-USSR “-stan” states. With help from daughter Professional Phlebotomist I set up my new wifi keyboard/mouse to work with the smart TV. To what end? Hey, I’ve got a hungry blog to feed.

Monday, 23 December 2019

Darkness resisted

It’s odd how often Christmas hosts un-fun.

Christmas Angst - Part one
V’s my singing teacher. Her mother, a dementia sufferer, died two weeks ago. The family organised a service in a farmland wood last Friday. With singing, of course. It rained heavily and access to the wood was flooded. Another entry was found. They sang A Gaelic Blessing and Ombra ma fu.

Christmas Angst – Part Two
Today, Monday morning, my traditional lesson. To find V crippled with back pain. Two-handed piano accompaniment limited to ten minutes. “But I can continue with one hand,” she said spiritedly. Dark circles under her eyes; slow movement at the keyboard. Wouldn’t hear of a cancellation.

Christmas Miracle
Christmas; we might have gone light-hearted. Instead we returned to the nitty-gritty of Schubert’s monumental Abschied, first tackled long ago. I struggled with “..hőrver-schwimmen…” The umlaut o is hard to articulate musically. It’s also just short of my absolute peak F.

Nothing seemed to work. Emphasising the aspirate h (huh), no go. Substituting “hőr” with “har” (which is cheating, anyway), another no go. V kept on. Finally she said: “You’re using that dark tone.” She was right; sometimes I imagine it makes me sound like a pro. V added, “Trouble is it makes you sing flat.” Oh!

“Sing with the front of your mouth.” Easier said than done, I’ve never had success with that weird command. But V was determined. Suddenly it clicked. A clear tone much closer to a tenor voice (I’m baritone). The hőrver problem just disappeared.

Driving home I sang a dozen songs all with problem passages. And lo, like a hot knife through butter. Also recalling the smile – the smile of a good teacher - that replaced the wincing on V’s face.