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.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Scroggie! Give him a knighthood

In The Guardian's series, Books That Have Changed My Life, politico-literary cerebralists admit to being bowled over by The Rights Of Man, Middlemarch, Das Kapital, The Second Sex, etc.

But who comes uninfluenced to such works? I believe these readers' lives were already changing (intellectually) before they turned the first page. That these books, often requiring much effort, were mere confirmation.

And those are the honest ones. Others... well you gotta believe they're flaunting.

I can afford not to flaunt. I arrived at National Service in the RAF knowing, quite frankly, bugger-all. My schooling was a disaster and two years in newspapers had taught me to type and to write shorter sentences. The RAF said I had the capacity to maintain and repair their radio equipment. Eight months of training from the structure of the atom to the tripes of the radio altimeter. Thereafter I took on technical journalism (especially in the USA) that would previously have been beyond me. Later still I started to love science.

Step forward Foundations Of Wireless And Electronics by Marcus Graham Scroggie - a genuine life changer.

Hey, poetry needn’t always be solemn and profound. It can be fun, so long as it has something to say. This limerick’s complete:

I wish I weren’t doing Divvers
It honestly gives me the shivers,
I don’t know the facts
Of the Gospels and Acts
And tomorrow they’ll drag all the rivers.

Reasons why. It benefits that the delinquent student is doing a serious subject,  divinity (Divvers) – otherwise theology. But what about the punchline? An effortless bit of compression and an exhilarating leap forward. Good wordsmithing.


Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Birthday story

Twin Olive Groves
Short story 996 words 

 (Several years ago. South-east London. Party to celebrate long-standing journalist friend's sixtieth.
RR: I cannot get my mind round the Christian concept of heaven.
Devout RC friend, father of five (six?) children: We cannot know the mind of God.)

A swansdown pillow cossetted J’s upper body just as his mother’s blue-veined breast had once cushioned his baby mouth. Two sensations to be called up at will since - here - time and space were rearranged to suit his moods and needs.

Through the window, as if clouds, roof tiles, and olive branches were a disguised orchestra, came the rolling allegro of Bruckner’s one-hundred-and-fourth symphony. Music of infinite length, rich in texture, clotted with intellect, slowly fervent, reaching out like his mother’s hand to touch his singing lips. Bidding him now to pray.

“My grateful thanks, Oh Lord, for the ever-evolving genius of Anton Bruckner and for your decree that eight symphonies would never be enough.”

Rising, he showered in a vapour of champagne, put on his beloved dressing gown and stepped out into the light. On a table overlooking a marble patio and an olive grove stretching down to the sea, one amphora released the perfume of coffee born in Yucatan while another teased J with the sharp yet earthy smell of toast. J inhaled as a connoisseur, squinching to capture Suky’s auburn head, appearing and disappearing among the olive leaves as she moved towards the shore, using her camera to snap delicate close-ups which she would present in a grand montage when she returned.

By now Suky had reached the shore and stood at the far end of an aisle of trees, her bare feet flickering among the wavelets, looking out to sea, the sun catching the back of her auburn head, he knowing her mind was concerned with his just as his was concerned with hers. A universe of two, the prayer this time issuing forth unbidden:

“… a paen to beauty taking flight as intelligence.”

SUKY sat across the table, eyes huge yet fond, responding to what J had asked. “In one way the movie was sensualist, about earthly pleasure. But for me it was also a hymn of gratitude for the physical qualities we’d both been given. He moving gracefully, running, catching and striking the ball – innocent dynamic delights – while I was his womanly counterpart without whom he was incomplete.” She smiled pleasurably. “Sheesh I looked good. Forget feminism. Imagine us as figures on a Greek vase.”

“And in your most famous movie. Affection turned into something else, perhaps forbidden.”

Suky laughed aloud. “The whole of the cast had to admit G was beautiful. No doubt, too, our characters were hopeless sinners. But whatever my supposed feelings for G they remained cinematically chaste. Besides which I had my own view of what was happening.”

He raised an eyebrow and she said quietly, “I dwelt on someone else.”

When her finger touched J’s lips the prayer had no words, only an unshaped grace.

He warmed at “someone else” remaining still for a full hour, afterwards compressing sixty minutes into ten seconds for her sake.

“Today I’ve decided; I am making The Visit,” he said. “I want it to be for the right reasons.”

Her smile faded. “You know I can’t help. Can’t even comment. I’m here because you want me here. Not as I am in reality but in this compatible form. Stripped of my beliefs.”

“Isn’t that horrible?”

“Never in this world. The price I pay for your impartial and distant love. A very fair price.”

THEY told him The Visit would lead to J2, himself.

The room was a replica of his own but repellent. A bare lamp-bulb, a full pot-de-chambre beneath the bed. The swansdown pillow sodden with sweat after a tortured night, J2’s mother having promised to kiss him good night yet had failed to do so. Then a child, now an adult, J2 sat on the edge of the bed measuring the remaining capacity of the pot-de-chambre.

From an elevated and invisible position J looked down on his unhealthy self: balding, varicose calves, a yellow-headed boil above his collar. Tormented by the Bruckner and yearning for Motorcycle Emptiness. Sung by – and here J was burdened by knowing everything – the Manic Street Preachers.

Outside, the two amphorae gave off the same smells but failed to satisfy J2’s raging thirst or a stomach aching with artificial hunger from drinking hard liquor too far into the night.

Those making The Visit were required to feel sympathy but J2’s weakened state rendered him almost too wretched. Prayer was essential; slogging, practical prayer with not a shred of poetry. J whispered. “Lord help me…”

An auburn-headed woman resembling Suky walked impatiently up through the grove towards the patio.  As she came nearer her face shrank into bitterness. “The  camera no longer works.” J2’s head drooped, then rested on the table beside the mocking amphorae.

“Lord!” cried J helplessly. “Lord!”

When J looked up J2’s body had relaxed and lay across the table, asleep.

“Thank you, Lord.” J had never felt more grateful.

In the aisle of trees that led to the shore Suky – his Suky – waited. J said, “There was a later movie, not very good. Someone helps you die. A plastic bag… Watching this man, J2, today, I felt that same desolation. Yet I’m beyond desolation. Am I not?”

Sorrow on her wonderful intelligent face. “I’m not allowed even to guess.”

He looked back. At this distance the wracked body, supported by the table, looked almost tranquil. Even though he knew this was simply a meaningless pause, engineered so that nothing would happen.

“I could pray for you,” he said

Suky smiled wanly. “You could.”

“Could I pray for the impossible?”

“It’s not against the rules.”

“Don’t die.”

Her smile had a touch of the mischief she regularly transmitted through the camera. “I’ll try not to. But elsewhere I’m older than this, as you see me. Closer to death.”

“I had a friend who said all this - ” He gestured at the olive grove and the distant sea. “ – would turn out to be oblivion.”

She nodded. “That’s been my expectation.”

“It should be your hope.”

And she nodded again.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Flying higher

NOTE: To make sense of this e-mail, sent to the owners of the snack-grill les Tilleuls, it's probably better to read the previous post, Flying high. Or, if you wish, ignore the whole boiling

Sylvie et Gérard,

Merci pour votre carte postale – un bon souvenir de notre dernière visite  (la troisième) aux Tilleuls.

Mais attendez. Mon anniversaire est maintenant tres proche et ma famille a organisé, hier, un repas qui a joué le meme role que votre carte a joué. Si vous cliquez ici:


vous reconnaiterez les ressemblances.

Vous avez cliqué? Et vous etes, je crois, tout horrifiés. Qu’est que c’est ca? Ce titre  abominable?  Des mouches…? Un mot péjorative. C’est une insulte! Notre snack-grill est entièrement propre.

Mais chers amis, il faut d’abord expliquer des choses.

Imaginez un villa à St-Jean-de-la-Blaquière, il y a cinq années. Occasional Speeder (OS – elle-qui-franchit-de-temps-en-temps- la-limite-maximum-de-la-vitesse-routière) parle avec RR, son père, au sujet du prochain déjeuner.

OS: L’année dernière on a déjeuné à ce restaurant à coté de la route nord de Lodève, direction Ganges.  Un bon café.

RR: J’en ai oublié.

OS: Tu doit te souvenir de ce snack-grill. Toute en jaune.

RR: Non.

OS: Une établissement sans toit. Des arbres… une odeur piquante… des mouches. Jaune. Toute en jaune.

RR: Ah, tu parle sur le snack-grill les Tilleuls, Mais il n’y avait pas de mouche.

OS: Peut-etre oui, peut-etre non. Mais ce mot commencant T majuscule, c’est trop-difficile pour moi. Pour la plupart des Anglais. J’ai vu l’un ou deux mouches –

RR: Evidemment. C’est un restaurant en pleine air. Je suis sur que tu as aussi vu des chiens, des chats et aussi des corbeaux.

OS: Ecoutes, mon vieux père. Le nom anglais, fly, c’est un mot court, n’est ce pas?

RR: Bien sur.

OS: Facile à comprendre. Facile à dire. Plus facile à prononcer que les Tilleuls. A propos, qu-est ce que cela, tilleul?

RR: Une sorte de thé.

OS: Et tu ne boit jamais le thé. Ecoute. Quand je parle de Fly Restaurant, tout le mond va me comprendre.

RR (dubatif): Tout the monde de notre famille.

OS (en colère); Pense sur le mouton, idiot.

RR (salivant): Tu as raison. Fly Restaurant, c’est un bon titre.

Et demain?

RR: On va déjeuner à Fly Restaurant. C’est l’endroit de la bonne cuisine. Et du bon mouton.

Votre client fidèle

Roderick Robinson

FOR THE ANGLOS: Yeah, yeah. The French is primitive, non-idiomatic and probably ungrammatical. Once it would have been better but old age has got me by the lapels. A faint gesture back to the past, if you like.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Flying high

Forget the reason. It's just a day, prefigured by two people going to bed in November 1934 and, as sad epilogue, getting divorced about fifteen years later.

If you feel like responding please celebrate the inventiveness and hard work of my immediate family (and a partner) who combined and turned the day - yet to happen, if the truth be known - into something unique.

It was Daniel, grand-daughter Bella's partner who had the original idea. "Let's re-create the Fly Restaurant," he said. The official name of the Fly Restaurant is Snack-Grill les Tilleuls, close to the wild and wonderful cliffs of Cirque de Navacelles, about 50 km north-east of Montpellier in southern France. More on this establishment will appear in the following post which - for self-evident reasons - will be in French.

FR cuisine is predominantly barbecue, cooked on one of those giant cheminées the French favour. Hence the cake. The colours of the table napkins and place mats, visible in the photo taken by Occasional Speeder during our last visit, were faithfully reproduced. Flies made of plastic dotted the groaning board.

Much thought went into duplicating what the FR offers (especially the mutton chops) and to devising a menu - subsequently laminated - which looked authentic. Bella swears the typeface is an exact replica. The only omission is an octopus dish which none of us has ever ordered. If the translation of the snack-grill's name is a bit ropy, I for one don't mind.

No one patronises the FR because of the wine cellar and my normal tipple is a can of Heineken, ordered faute de mieux. Chez Robinson, we did rather better.

I find it hard to acknowledge I deserved this which no doubt sounds like mock-modesty but it isn't. A moving occasion.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Acceptance, gloom, anti-gloom

The mini-adventure didn't happen - medical matters intervened. Never mind; old age teaches us to be philosophical.

Less easy to be philosophical about Alzheimer-stricken brother Nick (the best dressed one in the centre). At his "home" I  presented him with a pot plant - a strange, unbrotherly thing to do. I emphasised how his yacht Takista had invigorated my latter years. Mentioned sailing north at night with the Cote d'Aquitaine to starboard. As I spoke I saw flashes of recognition, then shared his suffering as he tried  to dredge up responses from a mind shot to hell by disease. As if we were alone on an alien and uncongenial planet.

Sir Hugh and I drove away looking for lunch in the Yorkshire Dales. Came upon the village of Leyburn, where the centre was devoted to a heaving mass of shiny car roofs. Two hundred beetle carapaces? Drove on, depressed.

Back at Sir Hugh's house I drank gin, wine and Scotch knowing there'd be a price to pay. Somehow Proust cropped up in talk; Sir Hugh has read A La Recherche (he has the necessary doggedness) and told me he enjoyed it. This cheered me.

Spent the following afternoon with Ron and Frances at their house in the tiny Lakes village of Mungrisdale. Ron and I started out on the same Bradford newspapers at the same time. He went on to write about Everest attempts, yachting, rock climbing, sub-aqua stuff and choral singing, travelling the world betimes. Frances has an honours degree in music from the Open University. Time after time I was conversationally outgunned. Parked outside was Ron's 600 cc metallic red Honda but happily there was no spare crash helmet. Instead I played the first line of God Save The Queen on Frances's harpsichord.

Driving home today I managed to transfer from the M6 motorway to the M5 motoway without being mired in a traffic jam. Almost a miracle. 

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Think of it as 10 cubed

A thousand posts – so what? Were any of them worth reading? That's what matters. Take this one, for instance.

A thousand pounds a year. In the sixties it was my definition of success. Now it's four months' wine bill.

A thousand ages in thy sight
Are like an evening gone
Short as the watch that ends the night
Before the rising sun.

Verse from Oh God Our Help In Ages Past

Hundreds and thousands. Multi-coloured granules for decorating sticky buns. To please the eye rather than the palate. A confectionery fraud.

M. A fairly simple Roman date.

Fahsen'. Cockney utters unimaginably huge figure.

1000 AD. Birth of Adalbert, Duke of Lorraine. To be safe, add "circa".

Grand. Useful addition to the world's vocabulary, courtesy the USA.

K. Slightly less useful addition, courtesy the metric system fans.

1000 cc. A large motorbike engine.

Thousand years. Gives rise to a word many find hard to spell.

Thousand (etym.). OE - püsend, Proto-German - püsundi, plus many more, all equally boring.

Twenty-thousand Leagues Under The Sea. Brownie points if you've read it.

Thousand Foot Krutch.
Canadian rock band famous for The End Is Where We Begin. Famous?

Mahler. Symphony No 8. Also known as: Symphony For A XXXXXXXX (Fill in the last word yourself)

A thousand times a thousand times a thousand. The present-day billion debased by the USA. Previously, courtesy the UK, it had twelve zeroes.

** I'm off on a teeny-tiny adventure. I'd be inclined to wish you all the peace of God that passeth all understanding. If it didn't sound uncomfortably like permanent oblivion.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Cruel to be kind? No, just cruel

 I have known cruel teachers but Anne G. was the cruellest. She was also the most effective. She had a secret weapon and used it relentlessly - sex.

In a suicidal gesture - albeit in happier economic times - my employer allowed me two mornings off a week to learn French. For well over a year. Very quickly I was joined by Joe plus a whole lot of sales layabouts.

Willowy Anne G., our teacher, was not only cruel but capricious. She took exception to one journalist student, possibly because of his rather prominent facial birthmark. She sneered at his incompetence, marked down his work savagely, and eventually insisted he moved to another teacher.

We, her toadies, were more or less immune. But then our Sunday afternoons at home were devoted to more and more elaborate devoirs, using more and more advanced literary conceits, the aim being to make her laugh. When this happened it was as if she had transformed herself into that woman in the classical painting - you know, the one emerging more or less naked from a scallop shell. Bliss.

But when we got things wrong, her green eyes became slitlike, her mouth a rat-trap, her condemnation piercing. The words arriving like arrows at Agincourt.

Not to put too fine a point on it, I progressed. The alternative was unthinkable. I often wondered if she'd been able to teach chemistry.

… in that little room with the high ceiling, hollowed in the form of a pyramid out of two separate storeys, and partly walled with mahogany, in which from the first moment my mind was drugged by the unfamiliar scent of flowering grasses, convinced of the hostility of the violet curtains and of the insolent indifference of the clock…