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.

Monday, 27 January 2014

Liszt or layshaft?

My recent short story is about music: “your favourite subject”, says Beth. But is that true?

Walking hard to pick up The Guardian I ponder gearboxes. Devices installed between a car’s engine and the driven wheels. Devices which help overcome certain shortcomings in the engine, making it more efficient and more economical. I envisage a cutaway drawing of a gearbox and reflect on its beauty.

Music has beauty. Give or take an opinion or two that’s all it’s got. It was composed with beauty in mind. No gearbox was ever designed to be beautiful. If it turned out so – and it takes a certain kind of mind to detect this – then that’s incidental. Gearboxes are designed to perform a task, to do work. Work isn’t beautiful.

Work is beautiful. Or can be. Watch an amateur saw wood; the blade flutters, the sequence is irregular, chances are the sawer is not positioned correctly. Watch a carpenter and it’s a pleasure. Pleasure is one of beauty’s byproducts.

A gearbox does what’s needed by offering differing gear-trains. Something similar occurs on a pedal bike but restrictions (weight, cost) prevent the most elegant solution. The bike’s “gearbox” is spread out; the car’s is compact, saving weight and space, increasing durability, demanding and getting ingenuity.

Compactness is arrived at via simplicity. Gearbox internals (smaller pic) are often pretty to look at; imagining them operating in concert – not easy, I grant you – conjures up two ideas: beauty of purpose, beauty of achievement. Our old standby form follows function.

I respond to this. Useless to compare a gearbox with a string quartet. Best to have both. But which influences me the more? Damnit, I can’t say. No favourites then.


  1. Oh, Roderick, you misunderstand me! I don't think your favorite subject is either Liszt or layshaft: it's women, especially competent, confident women. Don't you agree? And you write about them really well.

  2. I long ago cut a helical fiber gear, from a blank, with a dovetail saw...to replace one in an old bandsaw. It worked for years. The things we do when we are young! Recognition of genius in fields that seem unrelated? I'm with you there, no favorites. I will have to read your latest short story again, this time entertaining the notion that the author says it's about music.

  3. Beth: I hope my first sentence didn't sound in any way accusatory. It wasn't meant to. Your comment caused an observation to flit through my mind and I was away. You know how it is with blogging.

    Looking back over recent months I felt my blog had concentrated rather too much on what I sometimes call my liberal arts interests. But I do have another side. It was forced upon me during National Service when by an ingenious combination of stick and carrot (mainly stick) I found myself required to understand electronics at a reasonably profound level. I reacted reluctantly since I'd shown no such competence taking physics at school. Then gradually the subject began to blossom for me (even the mathematical side) to the point where I was able to take different sorts of journalistic jobs when I left the RAF. It was one reason why I was able to find work in the USA.

    I'm proud of the fact that my mind - at that age - proved so adaptable and occasionally I like to trumpet the fact. Trumpet? Moi?

    In fact the above post, though carefully worded, cuts a number of corners. If there's anything that totally grips me it's writing. Thereafter...? Well, you smart observant thing, you know me well.

    However, as you can see, I was unable to resolve the Liszt/layshaft conundrum and I count myself lucky that I'm able to knock on your door and find Lisztian answers. (Not that Liszt has ever arisen, come to think of it; I just needed the alliteration).

    MikeM: An interest in music caused me to write it but obviously it's about other things too. In fact I think Beth has rumbled me at the sub-conscious level.

    In the meantime, don't let that detail about cutting a gear wither unseen in my comment box. Simply tell the story in full and tack on your pride in your own abilities. Along with plowing (See! I'll even spell it your primitive way in order to dynamite you into revelation.) for eleven hours. You could well emerge as an existential hero - even if this has already happened locally..

  4. Is music composed with beauty in mind? It is composed with something beautiful in mind, but that is a different thing. Machinery is designed with its function in mind. Its design,compactness, efficiency,achievement etc These like music when they work as they are supposed to are beautiful. I think that we agree but we approach the subject from different dirctions.

  5. Joe: Is "beauty in mind" precise enough to be worth creating distinctions? I chose it for its vagueness, feeling it was more or less inarguable and that one could, if pressed invoke the beauty/truth equation. However I am uneasy about "Machinery is designed with its function in mind"; it's true but not strong enough, perhaps a truism; machinery without function is merely junk.

    Inevitably several corners are cut in this piece. There are, for instance, specialised types of gearboxes (on motorcycles, on very expensive sports cars) which are permanently visible and where prettiness (industrial prettiness anyway) is important.

    I say "Compactness is arrived at via simplicity." as if it were the only factor. Ingenuity is equally if not more important.

    I wrote this wanting to blow a little dust off my Barrett Bonden roots.To remind readers there are more strings to my bow than reading Ulysses and listening to Messiaen. Perhaps there no longer are.