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, 17 December 2014

Body-and-soul glue

I eat no breakfast and my brunch has evolved over decades. I am not (repeat not) attempting to proselytise. This meal is too eclectic to please all. I do not talk during brunch for this is Guardian time; if VR has the main section of the newspaper I sing Harvest Festival hymns quietly, to myself.

Starter. Quaker Oats Oh-so-Simple original porridge oats in sachets. Preparation/Variation: Paper sachet acts as measure for added fluid; water for me, warm milk makes me vomit. Ribena sweetens/adds taste. Rationale: Possibly healthy.

Main: Two slices of medium white farmhouse loaf cut on my own slicer; Lurpak Spreadable, slightly salted (ie, semi-fake butter); Patum Peperium The Gentleman’s Relish anchovy paste; Haywards piccalilli (“deliciously chunky vegetables”). Preparation/Variation: Anchovy paste, standing in for humous, has been in fridge for ages and needs using up; unbearably piquant – only slightest smear needed. Rationale: Slightly pretentious, proves I’m capable of culinary improvisation.

Dessert 1: Braeburn apple, satsuma. Preparation/variation: Braeburn is both firm (v. important) and flavoury. Both segmented to allow me to read newspaper unhindered. Rationale: (1) I like fruit. (2) Compensates in an alimentary way for sedentary life. (3) Satsuma has fewest pips.

Dessert 2: Two Tesco custard cream sandwich biscuits, three rich tea finger biscuits. Preparation/variation: Put on plate. Immediately replaced when slice of VR’s cake is available. Rationale: Man cannot live without junk food. Accompanies coffee.

Beverage: Two mugs of black coffee (Colombian Freetrade) based on four heaped teaspoons. Preparation/Variation: Aluminium vacuum jug (goes with Krup percolator) retains heat, can be carried anywhere. Rationale: Unlike tea percolated coffee (esp. black) is an assertion of adulthood.     

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

A communal time

 Just ruined the spirit of Christmas on another blog which I trampled on with hob-nailed boots. Causing me to reflect on just what constitutes the spirit of Christmas.

It can be a broad spectrum.

Christmas One, 1959. Earlier in the year I'd met VR (then VT), a State Registered Nurse in a London hospital (see pic) and she was working through Christmas. I chose not to travel north to my family and instead had afternoon tea on the ward with VT and the Ward Sister. There were no patients as such in the beds; just saddos from the streets. brought in, cleaned up, given somewhere warm. I should add I'm a very infrequent candidate for afternoon tea.

Christmas Two, 1971. Mount Lebanon, a Pittsburgh suburb. Two days before Christmas brother Nick called from the UK to say our mother was in intensive care. He tried, but failed, to be upbeat. Said he'd ring with any more news. Heavy transatlantic phone traffic delayed the call which told me I was, to all intents and purposes, an orphan.

Two hospitals, one presaging a wedding, the other a funeral. I'm an atheist which means, I hope, I'm also a realist. No doubt about it Christmas is a time of intense communion. Where self-dependence sometimes isn't enough.

Christmas also seems linked to disasters. On one occasion preceded by a car crash, on another I was delirious with (I think) pleurisy, on yet another a marriage broke up.

Once I spent Christmas away from home, ostensibly rock-climbing, more often drinking beer. Slept in a barn and ate a large steak which should have been my Christmas dinner cooked by my mother. An event that was unsatisfactory in all senses.

This year will be a family thing. Part family, anyway, but a wider communion. The dead will I hope be accommodated and honoured.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Giggle and stay warm

Yesterday the central heating made an ominous noise. We switched it off, phoned emergency numbers, drew the curtains, closed the doors, and resorted to chat (assisted by a Wither Hills sauv. blanc and a pinot noir from South Africa).

What, I asked VR, were the funniest movies? Funny-talkies not funny-slapsticks. Forget Chaplin and Laurel and Hardy; the former sentimental, the latter repetitive.

Some Like It Hot, said VR. Of course. Equally, Kind Hearts And Coronets. But how about slightly less famous treasures? Me thinking of A New Leaf (above), where penniless Walter Matthau marries Elaine May and tries to kill her for her money. Where Walter diagnoses his Ferrari's engine problem: "Carbon on the valves."

VR was strong for Alastair Sim, even in movies which weren't meant to be comic. Green For Danger, a hospital whodunnit, sags badly when whimsical police detective Sim is off the screen.

I favour laconic James Garner. When I cited Support Your Local Sheriff, VR (who normally hates Westerns) immediately recalled Garner sticking his finger up the barrel of Walter Brennan's menacing Colt 45. And Brennan's sense of outrage.

The French laugh too. In Just Visiting (Les Visiteurs) a medieval knight is transported to the twentieth century. Coming upon a postman's tiny van with its radio playing, the knight slays it with his sword. You're made to realise this is a genuinely fearless act.

Left-wingers aren't supposed to like I'm All Right Jack where Peter Sellers mercilessly lampoons a trade union shop steward. But for me politics went out of the window when Terry Thomas, a personnel manager, is told to call on Sellers at home. "Him! Why the feller probably sleeps in his vest."

By then the Wither Hills was dead and we were halfway through the pinot.

Friday, 12 December 2014

The Passchendaele of gift buying

In some stories the situation is king, the characters dried seeds in a dried senna pod.

VR (my wife) feels indebted to X and must buy her a present. Knowing X prefers presents that are unmistakably “gifts”, decoratively wrapped, hinting at wealth. In a word: toiletries. On a raw day the trail leads through a specialist perfume shop, a chain department store to a chain pharmacy.

RR is merely the chauffeur but is increasingly aware of VR’s impatience. Initially RR looks for items more modestly priced but is drawn into this meretricious, finally fraudulent sub-world. Fifty quid buys two plastic tubes and an ingeniously faceted bottle, all three vaguely labelled with terms like Body Wash. The outer box has a volume four times that of the contents. The brand names are dimly familiar from adverts in “lifestyle” magazines.

Soon VR is close to snarling with frustration. RR, new to the game, is wrestling with abstractions like cynicism, manipulation and brand hypnosis. VR has had enough. Says “Let’s go to Boots.” Boots is a chain pharmacy, the downmarket end to the shopping trail.

Outside the wind is bitter. Defeated, VR says, “I’m coming down (to the city) on Wednesday. I’ll go to Boots then.”

Although they are unaware of it at the nuptials it is for such moments that people get married. “Let’s do it now,” says RR. The couple slog back up the main street to Boots where a branded box (more tubes, more bottles) is available half price. Later, at home, VR thanks RR for that final push. RR reckons his gesture was born out of self-interest, but is warmed anyway. No celebrations because Thursday’s a diet day. But a bottle of champagne goes into the fridge for today, Friday, the best evening of the week.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Keeping my hand in

I'm associated with projects other than writing fiction. Here's part of my busy world.

"GO OUT and prune the alder and the fancy willow," said VR. "Winter's the best time."

I took advice from Hermann Goering’s monumental Scorched Earth Gardening and you see the result.

VR inspected my work (top of page) and said, "You can never over-prune a tree. But in any case what does a new sapling cost?” 

LOOKS like a remote control, doesn't it?  What makes it different is it handles Region 1 DVDs  (ie, America only). I haven't tried it yet, I'm still waiting for my first Region 1 disc.

This Christmas we thought we'd investigate Stephen Sondheim musicals, typically Follies, A Little Night Music, Sunday in the Park With George, Into the Woods. They're said to have to have egghead appeal. Trouble is most aren't sold in Europe (Region 2) and our expensive DVD player won't play Region 1 discs. I'm dubious but the remote only cost a tenner. Let you know.

CRAFT has a special meaning applied to decorative items made in wood: imperfect. To elaborate: inappropriate raw materials, crude design, inexpert execution, garish finish.

VR bought our house number in ceramic tiles a year or two ago while in Leiden, Holland. The tiles languished since we had brass numbers on the front door. But the door disappeared when the double-glazing was upgraded. We needed identity.

The tiles are mounted on a wooden plaque which should be rectangular but isn't. It is badly finished, the tiles aren't centred (in fact can't be), paint was applied via the car-crash method. Typical RR DIY. How Sir Hugh will moan.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Stuttgart - The reason why

German Christmas markets are fun - see, even I'm smiling. What wasn't fun was the apartment we hired, eighty-plus steps up, the same going down - unless you fell, of course.

Although not as large as the market at Cologne (Köln, to be nigglingly precise) Stuttgart's was huge, taking in two of the city squares plus the interconnecting streets. On the advice of a Stuttgart resident we sought a change of pace by taking the train out to Esslingen where the Weihnachtsmarkt was cosier, jostling among buildings which seemed original, seemed to have survived WW2. Note the church with its twin towers linked by a strangely rackety bridge. Note too the characteristic town structures as we got nearer.

OS (Occasional Speeder) was masterly. Found a restaurant with comforting worn woodwork, the door opening on a shabby interior which was just what we wanted. Alas it was full of Germans aware that Mittagessen starts earlier than we had expected. Quickly we found another but our hearts still dwelt among the shabbiness.

Never mind, there was adjacent entertainment. Two German businessmen, hosting two youngish Japanese functionaries, had cruelly ordered them gigantic pork knuckles. How gamely the young men chewed on food that couldn't have been further from sushi.

Outside men in medieval costumes re-enacted history, a juggler tossed flaming torches, a blacksmith hammered red-hot iron. We wandered among stalls offering sausages, wheat beer, eternal Glühwein, strangely dull lollipops with a bread roll replacing the sweetie bit, carved wood, and a piano-accordion player rendering an impossibly rapid version of the William Tell overture (or was that in Stuttgart?)

The best time is when the offices disgorge men in suits, carrying brief cases, to mingle among us commoners. Worth the trip, even a flight from Quebec.  

Stuttgart - Men only, alas

Designed to win at Le Mans; born in a butcher's shop
 Porsches – echt Porsches – are high-speed two-seat cars which sell in tens of thousands, cost a lot and are stuffed with high-tech. Most are bought by middle-aged, self-indulgent, wealthy men who are peer-driven, wear foulards on Saturdays, are socially most comfortable with other males who haven’t read Mansfield Park.

Such men are also romantics. Why else would they yearn for a potentially unbalanced car design where the engine hangs out behind the back axle? Why else would Porsche continue to sell it? In uncertain and uncaring hands – especially in the wet – these cars can pendulum you straight into the brambles. Porsche have tried other designs but only the 911 and its many iterations has le pur sang circulating through its heart.

And why should I – not given to foulards – visit Porsche’s over-egged museum at Zuffenhausen, west of Stuttgart? For one thing I like Germans, for another I dislike national stereotypes. Germans are said to be steady and reliable; if so why didn’t Porsche long ago stop trying to design out the handling characteristics of a rear engine chassis and force something conventional on their customers? Guess they’re stubborn. Guess that’s why they make and sell an automotive legend. Or is it a myth?

Zuffenhausen also tackles another canard about Germans. There’s a model 917 that won at Le Mans. Generous dimensions led to a nickname, The Pig. Racing colour was pink, hence Pink Pig (above). But look closely at the words within the dotted lines: Haxen, Rippe, Schulter, Kotlett. Translating into: knuckle, ribs, shoulder, cutlet.

The door on another Le Mans winner fits so snugly, the gap between door and body is almost imperceptible. How can I be stirred by something that almost doesn’t exist?
OS and VR came to Stuttgart for Christmas markets (see next post) but indulged me with visit to Porsche museum