I honour Lady Percy and her expression of love. YOU MAY CLICK TO CONFIRM.
Otherwise my novels, family, music, memories, vulgar interests, detestations, responses, apologies. I'm only serious by accident. Education? Forget it. I hold posts to 300 words* since I've found less is better than more. One quasi-certainty in an uncertain world: I almost always re-comment on comments and re-re-re-comment on re-re-comments.
* New exclusion: short stories.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

The way to enlightenment

Walking to the filling station for The Guardian takes 7 min - is it worth a post? The sun... Nah! Never the weather!

Nobody's abroad. Brian's trolley for delivering free-sheets is empty, its job done for the week. Brian is my age yet walks with lunging, impatient strides, does the Brecon Beacons. But he's not a patch on Mrs Meerkat, three doors down, whose stride is half Brian's but three times the frequency. Her tiny feet a blur, she only says Hello when I'm with VR.

From Dorchester into Stanbury past two vital symbols - the postbox and the bus-stop - then the portico house occupied by the soft-voiced farmer. In his eighties he dozed at the wheel, knocked over cones and lost his licence. When we meet he’s philosophical but l can't do without a car. Just can't.

Smaller houses in Chichester make a low black Audi look sinister – its down-curling LED headlights like the eyes of a dozing cat. There's drug-dealing half a mile away on the other estate; is the Audi a creeping manifestation? A plump, twentyish woman walks toward me, her face studiously fixed. No Good Morning. Shy, obviously; she’s gender-entitled.

I'm in luck: three Guardians. No need to visit the main store.

Taste poetry here in honour of Joe Hyam.

Do you remember an Inn?
And the tedding and the spreading
Of the straw for a bedding
And the fleas that tease in the High Pyrenees,
And the wine that tasted of the tar?

Reasons why. Odd-length lines in a rhythmic triumph. Recite it aloud, puh-lease. Comic, vivid ("Of the girl gone chancing/Glancing/Dancing") yet serious too (“In the walls of the Halls where falls/The tread/Of the feet of the dead to the ground”)

Tarantella. Hilaire Belloc.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Brock out-strutted

We set out for beer and sandwiches at The Bull at Craswell, a remote pub on the ridge that defines Golden Valley, setting for the Anthony Hopkins movie, Shadowlands. It's been years since I drove the route and I lost my way on impossibly narrow country roads with grass growing in the middle.

We never made The Bull but we came upon a strange sight: a badger - in broad daylight - trying to cross the road into a field, but being held back by a handful of sheep who moved backwards and forwards on the other side of a wire fence, blocking each outflanking move he made. Both Professional Bleeder and son Ian thought the badger for the Bull was a fair swap.

We ordered sandwiches at The Pandy Inn at Dorstone where shouts of anger, followed by a slammed door, rose from the kitchen and a pretty, overworked girl - close to tears at one point - worked the bar and served the tables. Service was much delayed but, as you can imagine, we'd have paid extra for the drama.

Poetry service, run by RR as a tribute to the late poetry-loving Joe Hyam.

Deo gratias Anglia
Redde pro victoria.

Our king went forth to Normandy
With grace and might of chivalry,
There God for him wrought marvellously,
Wherefore England may call and cry
Deo gratias, etc,

Reasons why. Fifteenth century carol, better sung - shouted? - plainsong style,  stamping like a knight's charger. Latin translates as: England, give thanks to God for victory. Wars aren’t my bag: certainly when claimed as God-driven. But the declamatory style cannot be bettered: six words (third line) summarises the whole campaign, "grace" is so persuasive it's forgivable, "wrought" (obsolete in 2014?) seems inevitable.


Thursday, 10 April 2014

Just one damn cube...

Oakchurch, on the Brecon road, was once a garden centre which became hoity-toity. In the charcuterie section seven or eight small dishes of dark liquid are laid on the counter with a basket of bread cubes. Free tasting for anyone who can identify Elizabeth David. I jest but it's that kind of place.

I try Blackcurrant Balsamic Vinegar; it's scrumptious. I rush to VR who says, "If you like it, get it." But grandson Ian, solemn and accusatory as the Spanish Inquisition, reminds me it's diet day. I am agonised, I never break the rule. "Just one damn cube, it was no bigger than a poker dice," I protest. All nod like hanging judges but I’m allowed.

Joe loved poetry and thought everyone else should, especially me. This snippet may resonate. Read it before the attribution as I must, since that's how Auden and Garrett set up The Poet's Tongue, my source book previously owned by my mother.

"Call down the hawk from the air;
Let him be hooded or caged
Till the yellow eye has grown mild,
For larder and spit are bare,
The old cook enraged,
The scullion gone wild."

Reasons why. Dead simple unless you're new to scullion (unskilled lad working in kitchen). Everyone's hungry and the falcon in flight is scaring away the evening meal. But where's the poetry? In the compression: the bare larder/spit not only says they're short of food but how they would cook it. Note too the elegance of "Call down...", making good use of the slightly less familiar use of the verb. Similarly "Let him be..." which may well be that equally rare bird, the subjunctive, giving a sense of formality to the procedure. Poetry needn't be airy-fairy.

W. B. Yeats (Oh, I'm so glad).

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

The vulgar tongue

Daughter Professional Bleeder and son Ian are staying. They arrive from Luton by bus, a great source of blogging material.

Sitting close to Ian a man, apparently Russian or possibly Central European, opens an exercise book which 6 ft 4 in. Ian scrutinises without any problems. On one side of the page are English slang phrases, on the other rudimentary transcriptions:

The dog's bollocks - An expression of something good.
Badgering - Pestering.
Bat out of Hell - Something travelling very fast.

Ian, always difficult to impress, quickly loses interest and falls to inspecting the head of the person in front.

Later, helping me consume a bottle of not very fizzy prosecco, Ian passes on this experience. As ever there’s half a short story based on a first outing of one of the phrases, preferably the first. The second half is harder to come by.


Joe Hyam, my late mate, confidently believed I would in the end get the hang of poetry. In honour of his memory I intend to choose extracts and respond to them as best I can.

A circle swoop  and a quick parabola under the bridge arches
Where light pushes through;
A sudden turning upon itself of a thing in the air,
A dip to the water.

Reasons why. It's a bat, not a swallow, but the rhythms and varied line lengths capture the fast, random but guided changes of direction of both types of flight. The poem deliberately uses the inarticulate "of a thing" to refer to an object not yet positively identified. Light, the stronger force, "pushes through" the arches at dusk.

D. H. Lawrence. Source: The Poet's Tongue. Anthology chosen by W. H. Auden and John Garret. The poems and their writers' names appear separately to bypass reader prejudice.

Friday, 4 April 2014

His tail's like that too

Years ago Tone Deaf, then Works Well, did the knife and then the spoon. Time now for the very symbolic fork.

It has, for instance, been a source of dissension between the Rs. In logistical terms the fork is inferior to the spoon. Used poshly (ie, upside down) the fork holds less tucker (ie, Oz for food; probably outmoded by now) and what it does hold is less secure. It is not the tool of choice for a hungry man since not everything is spearable.

In my youth and middle age I was always hungry and saw no reason why I had to eat, say, scrambled egg with a fork. VR disagreed and I gave in. Casseroles were another area of dispute.

The fork is, of course, associated with the Devil. I'm using an initial capital letter but will take advice on this from devout Christians.

The fork (used with the knife) divides transatlantic table habits. Or did, things may have changed. To a Brit it was all strangely unsettling. All that sawing with no eating, the food getting cold. Then the switchover - like getting off a horse and mounting a child's tricycle. By then my plate would be half-cleared. I never dared raise this point, I suspected it was written into the Constitution.

But Brits aren’t really more efficient. We deliberately insist on balancing food on the fork’s under edge, whence it falls off. Especially peas. Americans often point out this anomaly, unaware of their own practises.

Secretly, when no one's watching, I invert my fork and push with the knife. Lowering my head betimes.

A warning to untravelled Americans: forks are big etiquette in the UK.

No one I know uses a spoon to eat fish.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Fast spin

 Most utility rooms are - ahem! - utilitarian. In ours (and from ours) the liberal arts briefly flourished last Monday. All it took was a coin.

A ducat, groat, mite, or a gilder? Whatever. Left in a trouser pocket it wrecked our comparatively new washing machine. Terry, the itinerant repairman, sighed that the nearest replacement was in Tewkesbury. Reminding me of Gloster (later Richard III), casually summarising Anne, whom he'd recently widowed and whom he intended to marry;

Edward, her lord, whom I, some three months since,
Stabb'd in my angry mood at Tewkesbury.

Switched on, the new washer tinkled an electronicky tune, conceivably a leitmotif. Terry initiated a test cycle and asked who had painted the two oils of Hadrian's Wall hanging in the kitchen.VR took responsibility but Terry's interest was comradely not critical; he too painted and may - I can't be sure - have carved wood. A cultural nexus was evolving.

VR took Terry on a ground-floor tour of other artworks: her water-colour of an Italian town at dawn, the commissioned simulated bronze statue of our grandchildren, another commissioned portrait - this time of Zach, our other grandson. Terry, nominally an electrician, bestrode the twin cultures with easy familiarity.

Then a bell (metaphorical, of course) sounded in my head. Washing machines! I showed Terry my copy of Gorgon Times, explained that the joint-hero, Hatch, had been production manager with a washing machine manufacturer before redundancy. That engineering was, to some extent, a further co-hero of the novel. That Terry was GT's ideal reader.

He nodded, photographed the book's front cover with his smartphone, said he'd order it.

So far the washing machine still works.

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Source of much talk

Technically we were mourners but a pox on that for a lugubrious word. So much animation with Joe invisibly providing the conversational springboard. Breathless, I  fancied that these eloquent, beautiful people were conspiring to re-create a Blogger's Retreat lunch as a group affair. Joe, you should have been alive for that

Filing into the chapel we were conscious of a dreadful sequence: Heidi gone in late December, Joe a bare ten weeks later. Two unforgettable individuals. But to have remained silent or to have whispered would have been a poverty-stricken reaction. As the pair of them had talked so did we. Forced to leave Heidi's funeral early, this time I sought her two daughters and was drawn into a discussion about how acts of creation may occur unplanned and unexpected on a canvas. H and J, both painters, listened I am sure.

Tunbridge Wells, that samovar of middle-class spirit, was applauded and condemned with equal vigour. A gorgeous young woman spoke of a travelling circus and seemed impossibly moved to discover that she and RR/VR had lived on the same street in central London. A neighbour who had chauffeured Joe to and from the supermarket spoke about his cargo with affection.

It seems invidious to name individuals but I must mention Joe's offspring. Both were admirably cast as poetry readers: Toby handling Roy Campbell's translation of Baudelaire's The Voyage (discovered for the occasion by Joe's brother, Ken), Pippa a sonnet by Joe (And yet, you must keep saying "and yet"...). Over dinner they reminisced about their tumultuous childhoods, causing us to laugh and to sorrow.

Nor can I ignore Lucy (needs no introduction) who left Brittany at a shockingly early hour, circulated in style among the Tunbridge Wells chat and was only brought low when I incautiously suggested she joined VR and me for a nightcap before turning in. Kay-legged with fatigue she may - or may not - have been briefly a little moist about the eyes as she talked yearningly about bed.

I spoke from the lectern about Joe. People were kind, even if I was dissastified. Trying to be modest (The leopard, always remember the leopard.) I listed myself as A Friend then realised this is a role that is awarded, it cannot be assumed. I worried too about literary contrivances, tricks that may have done duty as sincerity. I saw that "being a writer" is a subjective state and briefly wished I could have claimed to be a juggler to provide undeniably honest entertainment.

Fortunately as I resumed my seat a hand accommodated mine. But that won't save me from getting some stick about that juggling remark, revealed here for the first time.