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* finding less is better than more. I re-comment on comments and re-re-re-comment on re-re-comments.
* One exception: short stories.





Sunday, 19 August 2018

Why and how

I sing.
You garden.
He works wood.


We philatelise.
You (pl.) ice cakes.
They high jump.


What makes my indulgence unique? It requires no baggage. One short warm-up and a flabby octogenarian, unkempt and unsexy, becomes a musical instrument. Somewhat battered, pitch unreliable, rhythmically uncertain but - Hey! - capable of rendering Wer ein Liebchen hat gefunden recognisably as a song. On a good day the score unscrolls in front of the inner eye. Not just a man but a baritone.

Singing's portable though it's not without effort. Taking in air becomes opportunistic; getting enough is hard. Forgetting the libretto is a failing the aged flesh is heir to. Best stay with the original since translations can be banal.

What’s a surprise is that the end-product is just as physical as stretching after sleep, diving into the pool, kissing the beloved. Like a pipe on a church organ the body resonates with what is created, offering its own applause. Away from the supermarket check-out the ear feeds on well-organised audio and is fulfilled. On a very good day the throat seems to relax (but doesn’t) and pitched sounds emerge stresslessly, flying like house martins.

The Song is You, sings Sinatra. And he’s right. The version you are creating has never existed before, it is the combined output of your memory, your inclination, your training, and your vocal mechanism. At the last note it will be gone: you may dwell on its successes and ignore its failures.

Your teacher plays/sings a repeated ascending phrase. You duplicate it. There’s no time to prepare, in realtime you draw it out of a ragbag mind and send it on its way. It is accepted. Now here’s another, half a tone higher. Afterwards – paradoxically – you ask: “Could I do that?”

Friday, 17 August 2018

Too late, I fear

A third of News at Ten (ten minutes - an eternity on TV) was devoted to Aretha Franklin who died recently. I was aware of her, notably via Sesame Street; Oscar the Grouch kept her records in the trash-bin where he lived. What I was unaware of was her worldwide significance. Big names were her friends and Obama wept at a 2016 performance.

Aretha Franklin sang soul and I have no idea what soul is. Rather I imagined it to be perhaps reflective, an expression of the black burden: yet last night’s initial extracts were fast, loud and assertive. The Obama extract (You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman - I've just looked it up) was longer, more varied and I had time to respond.

Yes, I could latch on. Time to hear it again in full.

Done that. I'll ditch emotion and dwell on one skill - the mastery of rhythm. The ability to float away from a comparatively simple accompaniment, to stretch out, to compress, to expand a single lyric word into a whole ode of meaning, to snap, to move physically, to find time to smile or (more often) to frown with concentration, without departing for a nanosecond from the swinging heartbeat of the chosen piece of music. Swing is at the core of US music. I’ve heard fire-brigade bands and hack ensembles of Boy Scouts swing. Franklin's swing is transcendental.

Soul comes poorly defined, a mix of several kinds of popular music although I like "impassioned improvisatory delivery". But what label could be worse than "classical", implying "hallowed by age". Categories are nearly always imperfect. I’m too late for Aretha Franklin since I have other fish to fry, the pan’s already hot and time’s a’wasting. Others, ignorant but younger, should find time.

Friday, 10 August 2018

Fruit of my loom

Singing for others never seemed likely; it was enough to learn, improve and pass on to another song. Subconsciously I accepted that starting from scratch at eighty wouldn’t leave me enough time to entertain an audience, always assuming I had an ounce of natural ability.

Some time ago I posted recordings at others’ urgings. Responses varied from lukewarm politeness to (more often) silence, confirming my suspicions. In any case such exposure was premature. Several basic requirements (notably a voice that was demonstrably my own) hadn’t yet been met.

I sing far better now but still as a student. V dispenses approval carefully: I need encouragement but praise must be precisely and technically worded. I’m a retired wordsmith and alert to what I regard as insincerity. Recently we had two fabulous lessons and the exhilaration, on both sides of the piano, was authentic. Coincidentally three blogging friends then asked me to post recordings. But I still can’t be sure there’s any transmitted pleasure in what I do.

Here are four songs, sung and re-sung for the hard disc, graded according to musical ambition.

Der Lindenbaum, from Schubert’s Winterreise song cycle. Elegant melody in narrow dynamic range. Suitable for advanced warm-up (but without the gruff one-bar fall-out).

I will give my love an apple. More staccato, slightly faster, folksy, a change of pace.

Time stands still. Sublime Dowland; seemingly easier on the singer and thus full of less obvious traps.

An evening hymn. Early English masterpiece by Purcell. Way beyond my abilities and I fear my tempo is uncertain. The Hallelujahs, as you may imagine, present many problems; had to cut out final ones. Very much work in progress.

Three in English, unusual for me. I prefer singing in German. I can’t deny that snobbishness plays a part in pretending to be a musical executant.

NOTE V's house is remote and I couldn't use my phone to play these recordings at my lesson yesterday, so I sang them. This was salutary:

(1) I do not have the score for Der Lindenbaum (it's coming shortly as a birthday present). V pointed out that the third verse, starting "Ich musst' auch heute wanderns..." switches to a minor key on the piano, before switching back again. Whoops!

(2) Apple. The two words "love a" in the second line ("I will give my love a house, etc) take the same note but UP not down. This despite the fact that I do have this score.

Just in case you noticed.

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

Willing fool

I’ve sung Handel’s Did You Not See My Lady? round the house, behind the steering wheel and in the bath for many years. Perhaps I heard it first at school. Here’s John Morgan, baritone, showing how it should done.

Without warning V added it to our repertoire acknowledging I probably knew it already.

I’m a complete fool about singing lessons, readily seduced by life “on the other side”, a slave to new priorities. But this seemingly simple project made me wary. V’s decisions rarely lack reason. Besides, she warned me: “You’ll go crazy trying to sing ‘lady’ properly.”

V was right. Most lines end with an enforced rest so no languishing there. Also “la-” and “-dy” carry the same time value so singing “ladee” is forbidden. But “la-” (pronounced lay) is a long vowel, while “-dy” (pronounced di)  is short and it’s remarkably difficult to balance out the two sounds without chopping off the second abruptly. Further, the general speed is faster than most amateurs realise (a common fault with amateurs) and singing faster helps with “lady” even if it doesn’t resolve things.

Minor problems? Not quite. I now no longer sing casually but from the score. The suspended tadpoles mean something. V points out other non-intuitive matters and I take these aboard. In the final two lines:

Riv’lling the glittering sunshine,
With a glory of golden hair


I’m encouraged to swell (ie, increase then decrease the volume) on “glory”.

I used to enjoy singing the song from memory for myself. But as my corruptions are stripped away and Handel’s intentions become clear, the disciplined experience becomes something else entirely. I’m taking precise instruction from one of the world’s great composers. Doing his bidding. An utterly seduced fool.

Note: Thomas Allen clip was musically defective and has been removed.

Saturday, 4 August 2018

Chewing into oblivion

We had salad last night, we don’t often.

A few leaves of rocket, a small pile of varied beans in vinaigrette, slices of knobbly tomatoes and purple-skinned onion, a freshly made potato salad with chives, a spread-out fan of avocado – edible garnish for a luxuriant terrine of coarsely chopped meats in a style VR has evolved over  half a century.

There should have been stuffed eggs but these went as bitings-on for a novel form of kir royale: very cheap cava ameliorated with splashes of a boozy (15 proof) peach cordial. The latter purchased speculatively – and, it turned out, rewardingly – by younger daughter Occasional Speeder while we were in France.

What was missing from our salad? Ah, that was what gave it its extra quality.

For years in British caffs salads consisted of a mound with a skimpy decorative carapace: three microtomed slivers of tasteless tomato, two discs of hard-boiled egg, a radish sliced into twelve and, if you were lucky, a sardine. The mound? Lots of that very dark, very limp lettuce that tastes of, and chews like, silage. Because, you see, the lettuce is cheap. A fraudulent disguise.

To add to my woes cucumber may have lurked. I gave up British salads in the early fifties and was to discover that salads were always better in virtually all the countries I subsequently visited. Even, I think, Venezuela.

VR has wooed me back. There is some specious talk about eating healthily but it’s all for show. For me good salads start with an absence of lettuce and thereafter strike out into the Land of Inventiveness. Croutons perhaps, some strands of samphire, a detached mermaid’s ear.

Lettuce, strangely, has its addicts but I am beyond their exhortations. Lettuce is for rabbits, both the literal and metaphorical sort.

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Going native 2

The villa was in Creissan, 35 km from the Mediterranean, close to the hard-to-pronounce village of Puissergian (Pwee-sair-gian) which quickly became Pussy Galore to our mainly monoglot party of eight. Each morning I awoke to the sight of this olive tree. Tiny olives, the size of peas, were reassuringly foreign.

There I lay, my PJs drenched with overnight sweat, dwelling romantically on my relationship with the difficult concept of France. From the first visit (a few days supervised by my father of Paris's three-star restaurants: "the last part of your education"), to the tours by car, to the scruffy falling-down house we owned for a decade in Loire Atlantique, to the lusher holidays spent in rental villas. Running in parallel with years spent vainly looking for fluency in the language, knowing it would never happen.

The brightly attractive young woman in St Chinian's cave des vignerons, spoke of schists and bottle aging as I tasted my way through half a dozen whites and rosés. She spoke in English and I in French, our competences roughly equal. As I left she paid me what she imagined to be the ultimate compliment, that I spoke good French. Other French citizens have said it too; it's not true. My French is non-idiomatic but what I say strives to be interesting, if possible funny.

The dentist who ministered to VR described his manual skills and I commented - "A sort of carpenter, then." He grunted his approval, but at the idea not the language.

Early morning at the supermarket, the middle-aged women, facing a long day, whipped our purchases through the bar-coder. Quelle vitesse! I said. What speed! She laughed, despite her awful job and my foreignness.

Language is human to human. One is obliged to do the best one can.

Monday, 30 July 2018

Going native 1

Finally, the most sensuous and rewarding moment was snuggling under the duvet back in Hereford yesterday. I was not born to endure 30 deg C-plus and the Languedoc boiled. The pool became a necessity; I lurked there until my bones crystallised with cold, slept briefly then awoke as a latterday Old Testament martyr.

Never mind, I holiday in France for the conversation not the weather. VR had dental ennuis (problems); as she lay prone the dentist and I discussed whether a Belgian buying up property in the neighbourhood might be a criminal. VR later complained I hadn’t translated what was said, my nominal role when the drill whines.

My French is fading and I need practice before I sound plausible or, more important, authoritarian. “Good day madam,” I said to the manageress of the Latino Beach restaurant at Serignan Plage, “my name is Robinson and I have booked your best table for eight.” Causing her to truckle.

At customer services in the Carrefour supermarket, Cazouls-les-Béziers, I asked why that most French of French aperitifs, Dubonnet, no longer seems available. Normally the French hate discussing national defects with foreigners but I teased the operative into laughter and together we sang the jingle from the TV commercial: “Dubo-dubo-Dubonnet.” A minor success.

Now aged 12, Zach as usual stretched the envelope. Claimed he could dive through a smallish inflatable ring and was sequentially photographed doing so by his Dad. (See above). He and my granddaughter’s partner, Daniel, played soccer with village kids and this became a regular fixture despite lack of a common language. This I regard a major success.

Tasting wine at the St Chinian cave des vignerons I was asked for my name. “Monsieur Contra-Brexit”, I replied and lectured everyone fervently about the EU’s benefits.