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

Friday, 15 December 2017

Moving on, perhaps sideways


Who's this effeminate guy? He lived in the 1600s before streaming
was invented. Or the electric guitar. Did music of a sort. A loser, then
Imagine this because it helps. Imagine the present tradition of reading books silently to oneself never developed. That books were only read aloud: to groups, a friend, to an empty room, to a recording machine. That we as readers were associated publicly with books we orated:

“X’s pernickety accent suits Mansfield Park.”

“Did you know, Y does all the voices in As You Like It.”

“Z’s Great Gatsby still isn’t right, a New Yorker’s giving him lessons.”

That there were no skipped-through reads. Or lies about finishing Moby Dick. Proof would be evident or absent.

Welcome to my world, in a sense.

Aged 14 in 1949, with the publication of Orwell’s 1984, I started reading seriously, voraciously but haphazardly. Huge gaps appeared and widened (Latin and Greek literature, most fantasies, Dostoevski, short stories, virtually all poetry, philosophy) but eventually other milestones were passed (Already blogged; I won’t bore you). A process that dwindled two years ago and is now at a standstill.

That same seriousness and voraciousness, minus chance, is being applied to singing. I’ve moved into an oral world resembling that fashioned in my imagination above. This world is transient and requires certain disciplines. A soi-disant intellectual recently admitted ignoring the battle scenes in War and Peace - converting it into Blank and Peace, I suppose. There’s none of that in An die Musik.

I make singing mistakes; rectification then ingeniously illustrates the composer’s genius. I am more conscious of my body because I have to be. I need to be tutored because there’s another language involved. Singing is not superior to book-reading but it’s less casual. Visceral reactions occur more frequently. Perhaps delusionally, I am fulfilled.

Here’s Purcell’s An Evening Hymn, written in the seventeenth century. My present task but pitched lower. 

Thursday, 14 December 2017

My face goes to war

Beautiful Venus simply arrived, her intelligence
has never been defined. Unlikely to have blogged
How intelligent am I? How intelligent are you? Hard questions.

But not as hard as: How beautiful am I or you?

So hard I can't imagine anyone well-balanced enough to make conclusions about himself or herself, publicly, in these terms. Or anyone equable enough to form the other half of the conversation. Even when we tackle these questions in the privacy of our own noggin there's a reluctance to arrive at specific words, vague feelings have to suffice.

If you disagree, Tone Deaf is at your disposal.

All I know about my own intelligence is that it has been "improved" randomly, willy-nilly. It lacks a formal structure. I can be clever for seconds but not for minutes.

But how about my beauty? Just recently part of my face has been a battleground as a dangerous medication has fought to suppress the cellular implications of keratonitis. The result: a yellowish crust covering 3 sq. in. I surprised myself by being able to ignore this, even forget it. I did however cover it with adhesive plaster for my singing lesson; V watches my face regularly to check the rightness or wrongness of certain singing symptoms and I felt this ghastly curd tart might be a distraction.

During adolescence I was convinced I was physically ugly but as I got older I concluded I was as good-looking as I needed to be and left it at that. But was the curd tart reviving adolescence? The answer seemed to be no. Might that be due to arrogance? Unchanged within, I was insensitive to what was happening outside.

The yellow crust has gone, leaving baby’s-bottom smoothness in bright red. In one sense I regret this, there’s more to be said. Shaving was a bastard.

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Heimat visit

Terrace houses for the rich, overlooking the Rhine
On my first visit to Germany (Hattingen-Ruhr) in 1953 the train journey lasted twenty-three hours, including an interminable overnight ferry-crossing from Sheerness to Vlissingen. Last Tuesday, thanks to motorways, a modern car and the heaven-sent Channel Tunnel we were in Düsseldorf - quite close to Hattingen-Ruhr - from Gloucester in eleven hours.

Eco needn't mean boxy; here's
BMW's i8 hybrid (£112k)


OS and VR staying warm 
Nominally to see the Christmas markets but actually to re-experience Germany and to chat to Germans. Driven by a desperate conviction that, post-Brexit, things will never be quite the same again.

Two steps behind, I "stalked" VR and daughter, Occasional Speeder, trying for shots that set them against festive backgrounds. Mostly I failed. Two evenings we staggered out of bierkeller restaurants (Zum Schlüssel and Brauerei Schumacher), our bellies distended with inordinate kilograms of meat. At Schumacher one’s empty beerglass is immediately replaced with a full one, over and over, without comment. On the last night we went Lebanese and the quantities were even greater.

Two things stood out. An organ recital in the Johanniskirche which has virtually perfect acoustics, possibly because of its short length/loftiness  ratio. Plus a magnificent, sharply defined organ (a Beckerath to the cognoscenti).

And then the city itself. Düsseldorf is a wealthy city enormously endowed with art galleries, symphony halls and museums (none of which we visited). But it isn’t in-yer-face wealth. Those with dough overlook a park separating them from the mighty Rhine, and live in terrace (US: row) houses! Literally wall-to-wall millionaires! Terraces, yes, but all with different frontages: stylish and beautiful (see the main pic). VR, normally a scourge of over-loaded moneybags, was charmed.

Some of the stuff is irresistible; especially the potato pancakes

Monday, 4 December 2017

Past laughter

Gloom and disaster are more rewarding to write about than happiness and triumph. Good things sound like boasting, typical events in a gilded life. Whereas most daily happenings are emotionally neutral: getting up, squeezing the toothpaste tube, smearing Lurpak on the lunchtime toast.

But what about funny things? Often they involve embarrassment so you can't be said to be boasting. I thought I'd give it a go.

Do you know what? My life's been devoid of funny things. I've trawled for minutes and caught nothing. But what about...? Ah yes.

Aged about eight I was dining with my grandparents. Grannie asked Grandpa if he wanted more... I've forgotten. Let's say, potatoes. Grandpa said (I hear him clearly): "Not at this juncture." I'd never heard that word before. I collapsed with laughter and giggled my way through the rest of the meal. Grandpa, normally stern and impatient, looked on benignly.

Even now, a tiny giggle lurks at the back of my throat. The word itself is distorted: "Joont-shuh." If I'd had two or three reds and was feeling relaxed (Alas, it's 7.50 in the morning.) I reckon I'd be vulnerable to a swift snigger. Can funniness endure for more than seventy years? Seems so.

A year or two later Mother, speaking to Father, mentions the elderly Rev. X. Father, in no sense a religious man, says "I thought he'd been translated into glory." Overhearing, I laugh out loud, trying to imagine what this process would look like.

No prat-falls, no spaghetti sauce spilt down the wedding gown. Both these echoes are word fun. My destiny was already concrete. And is that boasting?

Thursday, 30 November 2017

Smugness as a way of life

UK national service endured post-war until the early sixties. Young men were snatched from their occupations and for two years became sort of compulsory civil servants. With the added possibility of getting their heads shot off in Korea, Malaya, Cyprus, Kenya, Aden or somewhere in South America which I always forget.

My technical training in the RAF lasted eight months, spent with a hodge-podge of embryonic professionals - a police cadet and two solicitors come to mind. Mostly we sat alphabetically arranged, I next to P, a rather clever farmer much given to dismissive utterance. He kindly pointed out the difference - in value to society - between his job and mine. As a junior newspaper reporter I was forced to agree.

Parenthetically, things went terribly wrong for P in later life, forcing him into religious zealotry.

I didn’t question my work for I had intentionally scored a double bull: I was doing what I liked and that covered up my meagre achievements at school.

I was to discover that "doing what I liked" was a rarity in the job market. Many people, including degree holders, ended up behind unexpected and ill-defined desks. More responsibility and more cash helped them tolerate their days and then they retired. Often to a state of complete bewilderment. Many gardened and travelled a bit but only because these were boxes waiting to be ticked.

Given the uselessness of what I did for a living you may imagine - even hope - I retired into a moral void. Cowed that I hadn't benefited society. Instead I took heart from that materialistic biblical fable about coins buried vs. coins put to work. My latterday sentences are now better constructed and that's enough.

Yes, I’m smug. But oh, poor P.

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

Dear Pat

My gentle French teacher with husband Brian
Pat my French teacher for almost two decades died yesterday.

When Brian her husband phoned I wasn't able to offer him a single word of sympathy. Mere fragments of phrases but perhaps these were some measure of how I felt. For now the Friday morning trio, which includes my co-student Beryl, translating Delphine de Vigan, Balzac, Georges Duhamel, Irène Nemirovsky, even Simenon, was at an end. I've always been an awkward student but Pat (and much more recently V) overcame my awkwardness. The brutalities of my school life were happily well-buried.

On Sunday I visited Pat in Hereford's hospice. A tiny figure in a huge techno-bed, listening to her daughter, Celia, reciting the twenty-third psalm which Pat had asked for. Later I sat by the bed holding Pat's hand. She used to be a chorister and I jokingly suggested I might sing. She was having difficulty speaking but it was clear that wasn't her preference. She was the gentlest person I've known (she was a Quaker) and I smiled at her firmness. Good teachers are firm when they need to be.

Another thought occurred and I recited the first verse of my Grannie's favourite hymn:

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died
My richest gain I count but loss
And pour contempt on all my pride
.

Pat whispered "That's good." It might well have been a summary of her life and what I knew about her. Although Pat was far too modest to have claimed that.

Her death was imminent and expected. But when it came my vocabulary wasn't up to the job. Weirdly that pleases me.

Friday, 24 November 2017

The fondue was OK too

It is now, in the present, and I'm sipping Jim Beam while reading John le Carré's autobiography.

Suddenly - for nothing travels as quickly as memory - I am transported back to 1965 and find myself in a bar in St Gervais-les-Bains, near Mont Blanc. VR and I, with my brother, Sir Hugh, have just been served a cheese fondue by the patron, a youngish chap who's disposed to talk. I look up at the b&w TV and see John le Carré being interviewed on one of the French channels. "What's his French like?" I ask the patron. "Pretty good," he says. Although I'm unaware of it, wheels start to turn and I'm now a different person than I was then, fifty-two years ago.

No big deal and of no consequence to anyone else but me. A decade later, back from the USA, I start French lessons and they've continued ever since. Two more decades pass and, after a couple of false starts, I buckle down to improving my prose. No doubt far far too late.

So am I merely and belatedly aping John le Carré? Yes, but less obviously. I admired his success as a novelist and his fluency in French but there was something else: his ability to pass through Europe without immediately trumpeting his nationality, discussing things other than being foreign, being accepted as a member of a polyglot community. It would have been foolish of me to want to be a citizen of the world, but a citizen of Europe would have done me just fine. To feel at ease in Bordeaux, Cologne and Gothenburg and to profit from this easefulness.

Should VR and I see if that alpine bar still exists? Never. But I'd like to buy the patron a drink.