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.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Gluck said it better*

Tone Deaf has been extravagantly praised (qv) and must adopt a higher tone. Today's text is: What is life?

Amazing how careless we are with life. No sense of nurture. We drink ardent spirits, over-eat, read trash, loll mindlessly, pursue ignoble aims, revel in materialism. ignore what little talent we have, misuse our sex drive, sneer, cavil, avoid intellectual difficulty, dress badly and pay no attention to our posture.

Only the possibility of losing our life urges an improvement. Satan beckons: "There's more of all that down below," he says. Or rather we receive the invitation from his modern-day prophet: cross-dressing, epicene George Osborne, smirkingly.

I've swum against the tide: jogged before work, eschewed chips, tried Joseph Conrad, dropped a pound into a beggar's hand, listened (briefly) to Messiaen's Les Oiseaux. But never simultaneously.

I arrived with the moral equivalent of a million pounds. Not only has this benison not earned any interest, the capital sum has been eroded. I am down to my last ten-thousand pounds of good-will and a chill wind threatens my loins.

What is life? It's an opportunity to make the best of it and I cannot pretend I've come close. Worse still, I might have used up what I inherited in a spectacular and memorable gesture of evil. Instead I've allowed it to dribble away. Wasted it. Born in the West Riding of Yorkshire and imbued with all the mean-spirited parsimony that such a birth entails, I have nevertheless been profligate. To the point where even Tykes would disdain me.

And there’s one other thing. What is life? Was I ever equipped to answer that question? Doubt it. Better luck to the rest of you.

* How did Gluck do it better? Click here.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

The misdirected cane

At my school pupils were caned regularly and for no good reason. The prospect terrified me and during these sessions (once because my feet were bigger than the geography master's) I was often close to screaming out. I am not ashamed. It seemed the obvious reaction.

Two fat boys in my class were caned over and over for being fat. Yet they adopted a philosophical attitude, bearing the pain with fortitude, smiling afterwards, even joking with the caning master.

I didn't like the fat boys (perhaps because they were fat; I was just as prejudiced as the sadists squiring our intellects) but I envied the way they compartmentalised pain. Now I'm not so sure.

It's Easter Day which reminds us of the infliction of suffering by those in authority. Those floggings over sixty years ago were frequently unfair. Should one remain stoic in the face of injustice? More particularly, might one be shaped in later life by such light-heartedness?

I believe my reaction was healthier. At least, it led (I think) to a lifelong detestation of the death penalty. Thanks chaps.

From The Poet's Tongue (ed. Auden, Garret), celebrating the life of Joe Hyam, poetry lover and friend.

Gup, Scot,
Set in better
Thy pentameter,
This Dundas,
This Scottish as,
He rymes and railes,
That Englishmen have tailes.

Reasons why. The English persecuted the Scots; here’s a yah-boo. Googling: laudate - "Oh praise...", caudate - "Having a tail-like appendage...",  gup - reproof, derision, remonstrance, Dundas - a Scottish surname.

Is it poetry? Definitely. On the basis of "Set in better/Thy pentameter." alone. Rough translation: Don't bother with Latin pretentious Scot, say it straight out, the English are devils. Cleverclogs. Seven out of ten. 

John Skelton (c. 1460 – 1529)

Friday, 18 April 2014

Magic BM revisited

It used to be a magic moment. Released from the Hell that was Sunday-morning check-in at Gatwick during the ski-ing season, I would fetch up at the bar and order a Bloody Mary. Sipping, I told myself, I am finally en route for the slopes.

Ski-ing is now only a faint memory but not the liberating taste of that cocktail. Would a BM similarly liberate VR? It seemed it would.

We had to have two, of course, to adjust the amounts. More tomato juice and much less celery salt, said VR. Less Tabasco (that tiny little chap) for me; uxorially I also turned up the wick on tomato.

Still it wasn't right. Now VR wanted more Lea & Perrins  and I'd overdone the tomato. Nevertheless, we were content. The perfect Bloody Mary could wait for tomorrow (ie, today). And here I am in my shirt sleeves at the computer; outside there's a strong sun and a bit of a nip. The garden chairs and table will need disrobing so there'll be additional symbolism at work.

Too nippy? Why do you think vodka was invented in the first place?


Tone Deaf's tribute to Joe Hyam, poetry lover and friend.

But bright Cecilia's rais'd the wonder higher:
When to her organ vocal breath was given,
An angel heard and straight appear'd,
Mistaking Earth for heaven.

The reason why. No more comment on what you can't see; only what you can. The title is Song For St Cecilia's Day, you get that. St Cecilia is patroness of musicians.

The last two lines are a neat conceit. "Organ vocal breath" tries hard, but it’s “voice" in drag. "Bright" only makes the line scan; "was given" seems unresolved. Doggerel? Yes, but redeemed by that compact last line. 

John Dryden.

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.