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.

Saturday, 31 December 2016

2016 ends on a high

“Let’s find a chippie where we can sit down.”

Thus spake Professional Bleeder, urging her aged parents to overturn the myth that Brits may only eat fish-and-chips on the move and out of rolled-up newspaper. As it happened, Hereford, rarely to the fore in anything (incest, simony, coprophagia, even book-reading, have all been civically tried and discarded), had something new to offer. Those hysterical contributors to TripAdvisor were of one voice: Edwards Plaice (definitely no apostrophe) on Grandstand Road was THE place.

The menu was esoteric - listed among the Extras was vinegar at £1.10. Other prices were modest: were they really charging a quid for a sprinkle of Sarson’s? No, that sum bought a whole bottle. New to me; PB insists it’s a tradition.

For me the batter on cod properly deep-fried should be three-dimensional, standing away from the fishy flesh in a thick structure built up from layers of large crusty cells. Edward clearly knew his batter.

Conversely the chips must be limp and flavoury, ideally done in low-boiling-point dripping. They should encourage me to eat them with my fingers; a fork would ruin the tactile experience. Greatly daring I ordered a pickled egg.

To drink, a 500 ml bottle of Butty Bach premium beer by the South Wye Brewery, my preferred libation from the pub pump. Since the bottled version didn’t differ one iota from the draught, I was a contented gorger.

The bill for three came to £27 and change. PB, equally contented, and whose treat this was, dropped £35 on the saucer and waved away the difference. The staff were astounded, perhaps even slightly appalled. But in shrunken, mean-spirited and inward looking Britain one grabs at contentment where one can.

Friday, 30 December 2016

None so stupid...

Non-Christmassy Christmas news 1. I posted about this moons ago but have neglected my own good advice. Underpants demand a strategy. If you buy a dozen pairs simultaneously (as I foolishly did several years ago), the elastic in all twelve pairs will fail simultaneously. At Cologne’s Christmas market I sensed the failure as my pants ceased to be two-legged and became a pseudo-kilt, hanging down my thighs beneath my trousers.

Sadness followed. After buying a replacement three-pack at Cologne's Primark (super-cheap clothing) I discovered that interim dieting had shrunk me from XXL to XL and the new pants' hold on my waist was uncertain. Strategy! Schmattergy!

Non-Christmassy Christmas news 2. To practice sustained notes I sing the traditional Welsh song: All Through The Night*. Because it's simple and dates back to my childhood I didn't bother with a score and sang from memory.

Sleep, my love, and peace attend thee
All through the night.


Guardian angels God will lend thee
All through the night.


Soft the drowsy hours are creeping,
Hill and vale in slumber steeping,


Love alone its watch is keeping,
All through the night.


The first, second and fourth couplets (in italics) have the same musical structure. The third (bold face) is musically different and higher, but not impossibly so; it presented a difficulty which I've idiotically lived with for months. Days ago I bought the score. Found that "the" in "Soft the" drops a tone and the difficulty disappears. Except for my bruised ass where I've kicked it.

*© Walter Maynard 

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Instead of reindeer...

Christmas brings incompatibilities, adjustments and the unforeseen.

I'm sitting in the car in Hereford's County Bus Station. Professional Bleeder's bus (from Luton on the other side of the country) is over an hour late but mobile phones have helped cut my wait down to a manageable 15 min. Rain has been spitting without conviction, now it's getting heavier. As the huge National Express whale-of-a-vehicle swings into the station gobbets of water are forming on my windscreen, smearing the view into oblivion. I rush out to guide PB back to the car. Back home I'm forced to change my sodden chinos; heck, why not put on my PJs and my dressing gown?

The family group of seven (Zach is upstairs fiddling with his new computer thingie) is playing Dilemmas: If you were forced, how would you choose between two arms and four legs, or four arms and two legs? Which is preferable: being burned alive or drowning? The rest (all much younger) are complaining at the level of the central heating. Thermostats are screwed down and in Zach's case a window is opened. Next morning the heating refuses to come on. After a panicky twenty minutes the reason is traced to a switch marked Central Heating, obscurely located and never previously used, which cuts off system power. No blame, only relief.

The rest moves on to other relatives. PB, a teacher, stays. She's become an opera buff and we organise ourselves to watch Das Rheingold, first of four operas forming Wagner's Ring cycle, fifteen hours of DVD viewing. No go. The £60 boxed set, bought months ago, is for Blu-Ray players. Instead Bryn Terfel (John the Baptist) gets the chop in Strauss’s Salomé.

Lots of good stuff happens, of course, but it’s less interesting to write about.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Union

Door-to-door carol-singing is rare these days, a victim of uncharitable pragmatism.  Sung warnings gave way to a bell tinkle or a knock which had to be answered, leaving the resident face to face with a pair of ill-tuned teenagers in effect begging:

We wish you a merry Christmas,
We wish you a merry Christmas,
etc.


Now both bell and knock are ignored in the pious hope it's not the police.

For those who pursue the old tradition I am available as a soloist with a repertory of one. The tune is familiar and the libretto's sentiments are unchanged. But there is a political twist, intended as an indirect fraternity with those who recently suffered in Berlin.

CLICK HERE

Above, as a more direct gesture, daughter Occasional Speeder gazes out from our Cologne appartment at the twin spires of the cathedral which overlooks another innocent Christmas market.  

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Future loss

Dass ich so traurig  bin. Heine.
(That I am so sad.)

Sadness, ah, there's a thing

Look, I won't be deserting J. Brahms, L. van Beethoven, R. Schumann, J. S. Bach, R. Wagner,  G. F. Handel, P. Hindemith, R. Strauss. K. Weill (tunesmiths), C. Ludwig, B. Fassbänder, U. Lemper, P. Schreier, DF-D, F. Wunderlich, W. Kempff, W. Backhaus, A-S Mutter, W. Furtwangler, H. von Karajan, E. Jochum, (musicians), M. Schumacher, S. Vettel, E. Degner, H-H Frantzen (vroom-vroomers), T. Martin, J. Voigt (pedallers), H. Schmidt, A. Merkel (presidents), D Bonhoeffer (modern martyr), W. Heisenberg (physicist), G. Grosch (cartoonist), Der Spiegel (muckraker), A. Durer, P. Klee, H. Holbein (daubers),  B. Brecht, F. Schiller, W. G. Sebald, H-H Kirst, T. Mann, G. Grass (scribblers). Or the Pollmeier family, Hattingen-Ruhr, with whom I stayed in 1953...

... but the political connection which I cherished will be lost.

Just back from Cologne where I grabbed lapels and asked if watching Great Britain shrink into Little England would be a sad experience? Yes, definitely, said the Dortmunder I met in a bar (see pic). Yes, said the lady at the tourist office. Yes, said the waiter at the Chocolate Museum. Yes, said the lady on the next seat at Fruhstuck (Who happened to be an Amsterdam academic but you get the idea.)

I went to bed that evening warmed by drink and Rhine-borne affection.

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Aye, lads are like that


My Worst Journeys. An occasional series

That she agreed to a dinner! At Leylands Lane! The stiffness of it. She, her brother, I and laid-out cutlery, all foreseen. Mother bringing in plates.

While I am booted for rock on an empty road “up in the Dales”. Miles to go, too many of them.

Mother smiling artificially at this girl who means so much to me. Mother concerned at my youth, my inexperience, that I might be hurt.

Boots clump on untrafficked tarmac as I stride out painfully. Futilely.

There was a refusal, ah how that hurt. Now this, this unexpectedly formal meal. Was she simply curious...?

My calves ache, I’m walking too quickly and it’s pointless. Nearer to her, yes, but it’s pure theory. I will be late.

.... wanting to read the titles of books on our shelves? But surely she wasn’t that interested.

Late. Which can mean dead. The late lamented. Would I prefer that in a bid for sympathy?

Ash-blonde hair. Figure – no I can’t think about that. A sharp, regional tone of voice, well suited for criticism. Inaudible over the clash of knives and forks on my Mother’s chipped crockery. Imagination’s a bitch, isn’t it?

I walk on into a mist swallowed up by defective memory. Somehow the gap between the Dales road and Leylands Lane was bridged, in time, and anticlimactically. I know only that we met – foregathered sounds appropriate - and there was crisp meaningless talk. Of the meal which had seemed so inexplicable it only exists in the form I imagined it; not a single image now extant. An adolescent fever reduced to a faint uneasiness.

Saturday, 10 December 2016

Zzzzz!

Facebook has interpreted these lines from Messiah for me:

Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb shall sing.

Prejudiced, I’ve ignored Facebook. But I needed info from this service, so I signed up. What could go wrong?

Suddenly it was like a very bad novel: “Threatened, RR saw his whole life scroll before his eyes”. How could I have left such a huge cyberspace footprint?

● Why this huge cluster of Devonians? Ah, yes – because of her and him.
● Joe!
● An optimistic male face – the departed half of a known partnership.
● A vaguely familiar first name, but attached to a cocker spaniel. One of VR’s painting pals (the owner not the dog).

All wanting to be friends!

● But what about this sultry demimondaine from Las Vegas? A link left unguessed.
● Assorted and unknown Herefordians
● My brother.
● A married couple I regard as dodgy.
● Both my daughters.
● An NZ farmer and his wife. Lovely people.

For the first time I understood the absorption of smartphoners – in the supermarket, on buses, near an untouched pint of beer, perhaps on the toilet. Plugged into a huge family which was expanding continuously. Friends to thousands in a to-and-fro of persiflage.

I felt curious but resolute. Facebook discouraged deactivation but I ticked the box. Left this modern Tower of Babel buzzing.

Friday, 9 December 2016

If wishes were bikes...

A motor-bike's attractions lie in its very nature.

No clutter, just an engine, two wheels, a frame, a seat and controls.

As a result bikes have a favourable power-to-weight ratio; eg, my car develops 112 kW and weighs 1180 kg whereas the admittedly hairy-chested Honda Fireblade sports bike develops slightly more power yet only weighs 15% of the car. Guess which has the better top speed and acceleration.

A bike has superior ergonomic logic. Car speed is controlled with the foot, bike speed with the more sensitive hand. It's the other way round for gear-changing but a car gear-change moves through an H-pattern whereas the bike's changer moves up and down, always in a vertical plane, and may be three times as quick. Quick gear-changes make an engine more responsive to prevailing circumstances.

Cars are steered manually through a complex linkage which now demands power assistance. A bike is steered via small, intuitive movements of the rider's body, usually assisted by road camber.

A bike is intrinsically unstable, adding risk which, in turn, adds appeal.

In the end, though, a bike is fantastical. Bought as pure indulgence and used selectively it has its points. But a car is superior where the family vehicle must earn its keep. Apart from its obvious flaws a bike can undermine parental obligations.

I last rode a bike in the seventies, a Velocette as illustrated though less clean. I chafed at its antiquity; would have preferred a bike that was more demonstrably beyond my control. Anti-bikers would say that was a death-wish; pro-bikers – eternal optimists – would contrarily say it was a life-wish. I am clearly far too old to ride again but the urge is still there, well buried – like many men who’ve also felt that urge, I suppose.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Gliding's preferable

SIPs - simple inexpensive pleasures. An occasional series.

This post is not about butter and/or bread it's about my personal attitude towards buttering bread. Margarine has a brief walk-on/walk-off part and can be dealt with quickly. During and immediately after WW2 margarine (Hard g or soft g?) may have been smeared on bread in our household, I wouldn't know. It may have been unpleasant to taste, I wouldn't know that. What I do remember is that margarine-smeared bread carried intense social stigma. Only cads and those living below the poverty line ate it.

Aged about eight I was allowed to spread my own bread - long before the introduction of sliced bread (proof of moral degeneracy according to Daily Mail readers) or microwaves. I didn't enjoy this task. Applying rock-hard butter  to roughly hacked bread resulted in a plateful of crumb-covered greasy balls. Yes there were techniques but adults weren't telling. And don't let's talk about sticking butter under the grill; one always left it there too long.

Toast became even more popular since it better resisted spreading. I think, but cannot be sure, I took the line of least resistance and gave up bread-and-butter for several decades. Marriage seemed to coincide with the ready availability of spreadable butter that was also palatable. Our favoured brand has a sick-making name: Lurpak. But we're not slavish. Kerrygold (above) was on offer. The bread is Polish and is one of the best arguments for retaining EU freedom of movement.

No one has written an ode to spreadable butter and I don't intend to start. No doubt there are atavists who swear by intractable butter. Me, I swear at it.  Spreadable butter has removed a minor irritation which, cumulatively, might have driven me to the grave by now.

Let's laud Lurpak.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Pro or anti?

Here's a dilemma: should I sing Who is Sylvia? in English or German?

For Brexiteers it's a no-brainer. Having been told via the word of God (ie, The Daily Mail) the song was by Shakespeare who, despite a foreign-sounding name, came from the Midlands, it's gotta be like we all speak, innit?

However the setting is by Schubert. Admittedly he was an EU native and therefore to be isolated, yet his setting not only fits the German translation but also the original English. Which is quite clever. And Schubert died young and therefore deserves Brexit's tendency to be maudlin.

Words or music? The choice cannot be resolved and Richard Strauss (alas, another non-Brit) wrote an opera called Capriccio to prove the point.

As a treacherous reactionary Remoaner I'm happy to sing both.

Who is Sylvia?

An Sylvia

But in doing so, despite rusty German, I saw there were textual differences. So I asked my great friend and super-linguist Rouchswalve (whose impossible-to-pronounce blogonym I shorten to RW (zS) - the bracketed letters standing for "zu schwer" or, in Brexit, "too difficult") to re-translate the German. Here it is and as a tribute to her skills and friendliness I shall break my normal 300-word limit for Tone Deaf posts.

Who is Sylvia, O say,
That fields of nature should praise her
Beautiful and tender I watch her approach
Proven by heaven’s grace and traces
That all are devoted to her.


Is she beautiful and good too?
Like gentle childhood, charm refreshes
To her eye rushes Cupid
Where he heals his blindness
And whiles in sweet peace.


For Sylvia, sound, O tune
For lovely Sylvia’s honour
She exceeds every charm by far
Which earth can grant
For her, garlands and chords of strings!

Monday, 28 November 2016

Ever try soot?

Did a post about brisket at the week-end; posted it; deleted it 24 hr later. Reason: bad taste.

No matter, I can write a post about anything. And I mean anything. Even if it's truly boring. Let's say tooth-paste.

Being old I have a historical perspective. I was born in an era when one didn't just squeeze flat the tube (seemingly made of lead), one slit it down the side and scraped out the last traces for a final economy brush-over. But economy could be pushed further. Tooth-paste also came in a flat circular tin which contained what can only be described as a chemical hockey-puck. These never got used up, mainly because they didn't create any foam; the hockey-puck could have been made of granite.

Another tinned tooth-paste was called Eucryl and I was astonished to see in Tesco the brand still survives. But not the original format. Old Eucryl came as powder; accidentally knock the tin over and, whoops! you were reduced to using soot (see pic). I never tried soot, thought it might be a hoax.

Smokers had their own tooth-paste. Possibly sweepings from the floor of a company manufacturing industrial diamonds. I didn't smoke. Didn't need to. West Riding air was an even more effective poison.

In the USA, as one might expect in such a health-conscious country, tooth-paste was sold in huge quantities with special plungers. Not quite as extreme as detergents labelled Large, Enormous, and Home Laundry. The latter was just this side of requiring casters for ease of movement
.
It's difficult occupying your mind while cleaning your teeth. You can't usefully read or sing. You can of course think: Ask yourself am I being taken for a ride with all this expensive, probably unnecessary stuff?

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Road and more road

My Worst Journeys. An occasional series

This is Tryfan in North Wales. In 1955, on leave from the RAF I spent time near Tryfan rock-climbing. A main road, the A5, passes by and I intended to hitch-hike 140 miles back to Bradford. I knew the drill, had hitch-hiked to London for a couple of holidays.

I reached the northern coast road quite quickly and turned east to pass through (preferably bypass) the resort towns Llanfairfechan, Conway and Colwyn Bay en route to Chester. A sunny summer day, lots of traffic.

You may stand forlorn at the roadside, cocking your thumb. I prefer to walk since it provides an impression of progress. But the more you walk the more you have to walk. You see a significant junction or a roundabout some way ahead and you must get to the far side, otherwise you may stop a car that's turning off. That morning and early afternoon I passed many junctions and roundabouts.

How far did I walk? It's a blur. At the worst bit the main road met an estuary and I traversed a network of unproductive suburban roads. I departed Wales, entering the land of Transport Deprivation. I knew myself to be cursed, a modern-day Walking Dutchman. I ran out of intellectual resources, unable to think constructively, unable to hold the unremitting labour at bay. My target was meaningless, the road led nowhere and I lacked identity.

A smallish pick-up stopped and I luxuriated on sacks that contained the remains of slaughtered chickens. But only for a few miles. Thereafter the processes that compile memories broke down completely and I have no idea what happened that evening. A train perhaps?

Years later I drove that road but uneasily. Rhyl is Hell, see my long short-story, The Little Black Book.

Friday, 18 November 2016

Who's that at the door?

"Bicycle Maintenance/Repairs. Home Visits." announced a passing van - a service new to me. In Monmouth too, Wales not renowned for forward thinking.

Obviously I'm out of touch. I took bikes seriously for yonks, one benefit being that maintenance and repair were up to me, no arcane skills needed, thus no rapacious invoices. Once, from curiosity, I disassembled and reassembled the bearings in my bike's bottom-bracket. Only people with time on their hands and nothing in their heads do that.

I was shocked when brother Sir Hugh admitted (reluctantly; he could see I was a disbeliever) taking his mountain bike “in” for servicing. As to house calls it seemed a van would hardly be necessary; vagrant bike mechanics could travel by bus, tools a'pocket, reading an improving novel.

Is there further potential for house-calls?

● Medical emergencies: but it may have been tried.
● Extracting thick-ended corks from Italian wine bottles.
● Cat manicures.
● Stripping film-wrapped CDs (Patience a must).
● Finding and bringing in nomadic wheelie bins.
● Priest to forgive lefty for being lefty.
● Hungry immigrant to eat last cold slice of pizza.
● Ringing doorbell (Is-it-audible-on-the-loo? check)
● Tory utters Brexit agitprop through letter-slot
● Maternal type comforts smoking pariahs outdoors.
● Choir sings national anthem to doubting patriots.
● The Police! (Just joking.)
● Michael Gove! (Not joking at all.)
● Michael McIntyre! (Incapable of joking.)
● Reporting all Hallowe’en pranksters now in jail.
● Unexpectedly touting for garden work, post-dusk.
● Distraction ploy for thief presently ransacking kitchen.
● Delivering End Of World Is Nigh flyers.
● Commandant, so-called ISIS, seeks sanctuary.

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Bolt-holes

Despite an intensely funny half-hour of Have I Got News For You, the UK’s long-running satirical telly programme, VR didn't want to talk about Trump or Brexit any more. Wanted to blot them both out.

In my mind's eye we're on the dangerous dirt road to Port Underwood, a tree-covered fiord on NZ's South Island, the most beautiful place in the Universe. Two days with the welcoming and sophisticated Rousches.

We're emerging from St David's Hall, Cardiff, having heard Herbert Blomstedt conduct the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra in Brahms’ third symphony - as if the music had been composed there and then, for the first time, just for us.

Anniversary dinner at Le Manoir aux Quat' Saisons and the sagacious sommelier is offering VR a loan of his spectacles to read the wine list.

A family inspects our house in Kingston-upon-Thames. It's a hot day, the French windows are open, the little fountain (based on a stone mill-wheel) tinkles in the garden, and our daughter, Occasional Speeder, lolls in an easy chair. The family's father says, "I'd like to live here." and we know we've made a sale.

We've driven VR's mum, Edna. who's notoriously anti-Wales, up through the Elan Valley past the reservoir and on towards Rhayader. Edna says, "I'm so sleepy but I have to stay awake. It's so lovely."

I've read Patrick O'Brian's twenty-novel Jack Aubrey-Stephen Maturin series three times, VR twice. One of us, it doesn't matter who, is saying, "Do you remember when Stephen..." We laugh in recognition.

VR’s been in the kitchen while I’ve manhandled English in my study. I come down and there’s Eggs Mornay for dinner. Unexpectedly.

February 2012. Or 2013. Or 2014. The cough’s gone.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Hard to take

I'm moderately sure anyone who reads Tone Deaf doesn’t support Trump. So here’s sympathy without qualification.

It is hard to pick even a grain of comfort. A week ago a BBC reporter interviewed the head of the largest Evangelical college in the USA, a man who might have run a mile from DJT. But no, he would vote Trump "with a view to the next thirty years". Didn't want a pro-Choice judge appointed to the Supreme Court.

Recently, during a lengthy BBC programme about the Rust Belt, I sensed a hollow feeling. A montage of Trump statements was shown, all delivered in the by-now familiar style - simple short statements, preceded and followed by longish pauses. An ideal way of addressing blue-collar workers with little education who haven't worked for the last ten years and won't for the next ten. The cumulative effect was hypnotic and inescapable.

I'd thought Trump was running a dumb campaign, in fact it was incredibly smart. Lies and the insults made you want to watch his speeches and when you got there you couldn't avoid his message. Will he betray those hopeless folk in Johnstown and nearby? The question is irrelevant. He was aiming to get elected. If he's got time he may toss them a crust; far better to be a businessman presently paying taxes. There could be a Christmas prezzie on the way.

The best hope is he'll only last one term. The Chinese, presently flooding the world with cheap steel, superfluous to their needs, may have something to say about any curtailment of that market. And don't the Chinese own half a trillion dollars of US debt, a fairly big lever during negotiations?

Two hideous expressions of democracy: Trump and Brexit.

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Lying's harder

Non-fiction's so much easier than fiction - it is, after all, stuff that's happened, it doesn't need imagining. 11,122 words in about 15 days. Sorry, only of interest to me and 16 gerontocrats not resident in SE England.

Opening Bars
A late-life adventure
Roderick Robinson


Intro: What this book is not; possibly unique given my age. Classical. Singing not instrumental.

Ch. 1. My first lesson.

Ch. 2. Aims and expectations. The pleasures. The hard stuff and the easy stuff. Personal taste. Sentimentality. Duets.
 
Ch. 3. The score.

Ch. 4. Unexpected difficulties.

Ch. 5. The tools: keyboard, YouTube, buying scores, Musecore, TV masterclasses.

Ch. 6. The teacher: the intangible essentials. Gender. Sing with smile. Stop singing piece that has become a burden. Ways of encouragement. Language. V description.

Ch. 7. The teacher: the method. The complexities of warm-up. The rainbow. Terminal consonants. The technicalities (limited because of age; identification of voice). Choice of new pieces. Ability to recognise what new pieces offer. Examples of new pieces analysed.

Ch. 8. Homework; using computer (dangers); varying practice; choosing one’s additional songs (simple, narrow range to develop tone and expression).

Ch. 9. Measuring one’s own progress, inc. listening to performances differently.

Ch. 10. Talking to other singers. Joining choir?

Ch. 11. Beginner, me? Not exactly. Familiarity with music. Enthusiasm. Ability to be moved

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Liquid dynamite

SIPs - simple inexpensive pleasures. An occasional series.

It's no use, I just can't remember the difference between "sensuous" and "sensual". I've looked it up a dozen times, solicited help from bloggo like-minds, but it just doesn't stick. So you'll have to take my first paragraph today as read.

As the descent into oblivion gains speed, here's one thing that keeps my family from booking the Humanist Society guy who does eulogies. A bottle of alkaline-flavoured fizzy water always at the ready in the fridge. It used to be 1½ litre capacity but now I prefer this pinch-waisted 1 litre shape; its ergonomics fits my sense of aesthetics.

Do you snore? I probably do but it's like quantum mechanics; waking up to check  disturbs the experimental conditions. When I do wake my throat suggests I snore for England; children could use my guzzard as a sandpit. Downstairs I go.

The bottle rests in the fridge's door shelf, that's an absolute must. There's a hiss in the dark as I unscrew the cap and already I feel slightly more human. I swig from the bottle-neck because, after all, it's my bottle. What follows is not drinking as such but an all-out ICBM attack on my dryness; fizz plus bitterness plus chill combine in a shocking pain. It's too much, I tell myself, it's... ecstasy! No other form of hydration (not even the 1945 bottle of Richebourg which cost £500-plus) comes anywhere near. I am simultaneously Smokin' Joe Frazer and Alan Rickman. I am Dick 3 who, as we all know, is himself again.

A litre of Buxton costs 60 p. My soul remains doomed but my body's ready for more work on Opening Bars, my take on singing lessons, another source of ecstasy. Words done: 10,592; target: 25,000

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

RR being nasty (Not so nasty - L)

I conclude there's only one cast-iron reason for going on holiday: to speak French to natives.

For this I concede a perfectly contrived bed with equally perfect bedside lights, a proper (ie, desktop) computer, superior music reproduction, the best telly programmes in the world, access to the world's best wines, three normally unoccupied loos, two weekly singing lessons, temperate weather, a garage to house my car.

Granted France has satisying countryside but then so does nearby Wales. And how long can you look at a scene? There's also the chance of having blanquette de veau and/or stuffed cabbage for a lunch costing less than  €12 but the odds are lengthening, more often it's pizza, pizza, pizza.

A holiday suggests indulgence which also hints at selfishness. That's me. One attraction about speaking French is that most other Brits can't. I belong to an elite even if hardly anyone else cares. I care and I'm warmed by exclusivity. I suppose this is how billionaires feel except they've merely got cash, I've got something I nurtured.

What's more I'm cruel with it. In the pharmacy I see Brits, pitifully dressed in holidayish clothes, struggling to order an unguent that'll cure them of the runs. I go in, make the pharmacienne laugh (Hard to do, I can tell you.) and I sense British resentment. Sense it and feed on it.

I occurs to me that most Brexiteers probably don't speak French. That they've risked economic chaos in effect to widen the Channel. Is it wrong of me to behave so vindictively? After all as Brits we're all destined to live in rags in an international version of Carey Street. 

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

On the road to Damascus

I’m 6200 words into writing Opening Bars, a 25,000-word book about starting to take singing lessons. I face the question: what’s in it for those who may never sing to an audience?

Scroll forward to last Monday. V wants me to sing staccato and has chosen an old French drinking song. It’s rated presto (ie, crotchet = 152) which turns it into real tongue-twister. Try this at speed:


S’il est bon, s’il est agréable,
J’en boirai jusqu-à mon plaisir


V’s French isn’t too hot and I tease her, something I regret bitterly a few minutes later.

We’re two-thirds through the lesson, my voice is not only thoroughly warmed up it’s well used. We’ve dropped the French song and I’m doing Waly, Waly, half-imitating a well-known tenor I’ve seen on YouTube. V nods when I’m finished. I can’t remember her exact words (Ah, would that I could!) but this is the gist:

“Why don’t you forget every pro singer you’ve ever heard, relax, pretend you’re alone, and sing this in your own voice.”

It’s not the first time she’s made this recommendation but in the past it’s always been impossible to follow. This time the song, the state of my voice and the moment all click. I push all those “singer-ish” memories to one side and open my mouth:

The water is wide,
I can not get o’er


V doesn’t nod, she spreads her hands. “There, that’s what you’ve been looking for. Your voice. And it’s lovely.”

And I’ve got one answer to the question in my book.

Friday, 21 October 2016

The little things in life

The new car demands a new mount for the satnav. But the curvaceous dash offers no purchase points and the previous wooden frame, crudely fashioned from wood and painted black to hide the crudity, must be now be ditched. Enter a replacement mat which self-adheres to the dash and offers up a smooth plastic (glass?) disk which accepts the satnav's sucker.

This is not a story which leaves me looking clever.

Disk and sucker mate, staying together for a week. Then the suction dies and the satnav tumbles into the car's foot-well. Brother Sir Hugh suggests attaching Velcro pads to the disk and the sucker and letting their tenacious hold do the job. "You may find it difficult to tear them apart," says Lord Hugh, Duke of DIY.

I install the Velcro; disk and sucker disengage in one second flat. "Am I missing something?" I ask.

"You do know that Velcro comes in two parts: a smooth pad and a hairy pad?" says Bro. I didn't, perhaps because the instructions came in picture form. I do as I'm told and it works. But a little part of me inside dies.

DEATH THROES I'm using Waly, Waly (arr. Britten) as a way of smoothing the rough tone of my singing voice. It's a simple tune with a narrow range. I decided I'd post it for all to hear. Recorded it ten times and deleted it ten times. Went downstairs to examine knives, nooses, and various poisons. Came back up: recorded/deleted it a further ten times. Went downstairs having decided to drink myself to death.

Ten more times and THIS will have to do. Alas, still some wobbles,

Friday, 14 October 2016

The Gardener

Sonnet: On visiting the blog of a dead friend

The sap has dried, disabled stalks have turned
To compost – and he’d know the truth of that.
For me decay, for him life’s stuff re-formed,
It’s not my field, I’ll simply tip my hat.
 
Others have taken this way.  Like E. who
“Passed by – like Time” and died, another friend.
Her roots were strong, the wit between us grew,
She blossomed to an uncomplaining end.

In glades of death the plant that grows is loss,
Who needs a bell that sounds nonentity?
Why should it be worth my while to doss
Down here wanly in tranquillity?

Text is quite silent, echoes come from sound,
Where else might such a miracle be found?

Friday, 7 October 2016

A niggle avoided

My new car allows me to check tyre pressures electronically at the steering wheel. And, if a tyre starts to deflate an icon lights up. This is a worthwhile step forward. I always carry a pressure gauge (several in fact) and will continue to do so, but its application seems rooted in the dark ages, slightly hit and miss, with consequent small loss of air.

In fact it requires a knack. Knacks are for men who reminisce about old cars, boasting about how their skills overcame a vehicle's shortcomings. In the twenty-first century there should be no shortcomings to overcome, and for this reason: even the feeblest modern car can exceed the motorway maximum speed. Often it takes a crash or a near-miss for an inert driver to realise just how much dangerous energy is involved in a ton at 70 mph.

Check, too, the local newspaper for road fatalities. They appear to be split between the very young and the very old. Reflect: the very young are probably too young to have picked up knacks, the very old are quite likely to have forgotten them.  Yes, I'm well aware which category I belong to.

I've switched from diesel to petrol for speculative reasons I won't go into. A veritable sea-change, whatever that is (Please don't explain; I too can use Google). With the diesel at slow speeds I used to loaf along, my right foot merely hovering over the loud pedal, torque being developed at tiny rpm figures. Now even the mildest acceleration requires conscious foot pressure; occasionally I forget.

“Start-stop” switches off the engine at traffic lights, saving fuel; re-starting is instantaneous and virtually unnoticeable. For Trump voters and other climate-change deniers there's a disabling switch. The car is thus politically neutral.

The auto/manual gearbox is seven speeds.

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Furry friends

Shaggy question: Was £10 plus £2 tip well spent?
 
Is the word pet - (n.) domestic animal - disappearing from the English vocabulary? Does the "pet" concept still exist?

These questions have to do with word usage and the passage of time. Decades ago, at echt middle-class gatherings in Britain, conversations might have kicked off in response to: "And do you have a pet?"

Maybe I don't get out enough but that question seems strangely at odds with the year 2016. These days it's likely to have morphed into "Do you have a dog?" Then, slightly more reluctantly, "A cat?" If the sequence were to continue all the way to "A budgie?" a reference to pet might crop up, possibly out of nostalgia. But dogs and cats I imagine are no longer pets. They're something grander and the subject of rhapsody.

Needless to say I have innumerable theories which I don't intend to rehearse here. I've lived in homes shared with animals but, with one exception, it's been someone else's choice. I even get along with animals although gloomy speculation dogs me: "What happens to the French villa holiday?"

That exception, many years ago, concerned a white rat. During a period of reduced parental scrutiny I acquired it and loved it. In return it ran up my arm and nibbled my ear lobe. By contrast a labrador would have been misanthropic. As I approached with cabbage leaves it emerged from its sleeping shed, pink eyes glistening with affection – for food but mostly for my company. Outraged at the discovery, my father ordered its disposal and I gave it away.

It was definitely a pet. Proving the point I petted it. I wish I still had it so that my 2016 cocktail-party answer might be: “Actually, a white rat.” Writers should always try to arrive out of left field.

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Do graves and lists speak?

Poignant - Middle English poinant from Early French poindre: to prick. Latin pungere: to prick, sting.

Or, these days, says my Penguin dicker, causing or renewing distress; painfully sad. But surely such sadness is not entirely negative; might it also be associated with distant contentment, glancing appreciation of beauty, whispered reassurances?

One hundred years after the event Younger Daughter (Occasional Speeder), hubbie and son visited the WW1 cemeteries in northern France and Belgium. What were they expecting from these inanimate tombstones and well-kept lawns? One justification is the number of tombstones, enough to make anyone reflect. But OS's family is comparatively young and more than three generations have rolled by since the guns went quiet.

Did they go there to experience poignancy - to cause or renew distress for themselves? My immediate answer was no, then I paused. How about sub-consciously? And in doing so find tranquillity? I haven't asked. Wouldn't.

Lucy and I have been kidding about blog contact lists. Well, that's how it started. But three of the names on my list belong to the dead. I guess their listings are my equivalent of the Menin Gate, I want to hang on to them. The least I can do given the way their owners entertained me in life.

Illness may have intervened with others, or I may have offended them into silence. Either way they wrote to me at Tone Deaf and, before that, Works Well. That gesture deserves marking.

Do I retain their names to cause or renew distress - to me? It's quite possible. I suspect several suffered when I went "too far". Is their continued listing poignant? Are my reasons painfully sad? Vaguely defined words always have most potential.

Saturday, 1 October 2016

An official gift

Official gifts between couples glued together for ages can be the very devil. True feelings, it is thought, can only be expressed with a “new” gift and newness in old age can be a hot potato.

How did VR feel, I asked, about a session with V (my singing teacher, sorry about the confusion) talking generally about music and illustrating things vocally. VR, not presently in good health but an avid listener of BBC Radio 3, proved agreeable.

It didn’t start well. In a taster about my progress, I warmed up and discovered the aftermath of my cold had cropped my range 20%. Worse, singing the warm-up Tué Tué, Barima Tué Tué as a round with V, something I’ve done many times, I completely lost the plot. Much worse still, V was suffering from a cold and her upper notes were denied her.

From then on V was bloody marvellous. Explaining how students have to be discouraged from “swallowing their consonants”, positively illustrated by an artlessly pure-voiced Norwegian soprano. “Listen,” said V, “you can hear her Ss.”

Then V’s relationship with her own teacher, a glorious mezzo capable of tonally matching the trumpet in a church piece, eventually (in my opinion) outdistancing the yard-and-half of brass tubing in the matter of subtlety. And I speak as an ex-trumpeter.

V, using voice and piano, to reveal the contrasting textures of a Michael Head song cycle and how they combine. V, most of all, unable to contain her enthusiasm, admitting to singing round the house. Disappointed by those who only sing when they’re paid.

How did it go? I asked VR.

“For two hours I didn’t know I had shingles.”

As one on the outer fringe of this world I felt both stirred and comforted. Brexit and physical frailty forgotten.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Takes two to tango

I worked hard on Lilacs over the weekend, trying to pin down those slippery minor-key lines: recording them then strangling them as failures.  Just when my wheezy voice started to give up (the cold, as I feared, aroused bronchiectasis which will hang around two months) I detected some progress and went downstairs to company, wine, booze, telly and oblivion.

I reported back to V on Monday, insisting any linking of our voices in a Lilacs duet - my ultimate aim - was ages away.

But V, while sympathetic and boundlessly encouraging, is a teacher and knows best. We sang Lilacs as a duet for the first time ever. Timing (hard to rehearse solo) was the stumbling block and I lost my way twice, thrice. Thought I'd bollixed it.

V differed. "Well done you," she said, which is as good as good gets. Said I’d held my line, hadn’t allowed her more powerful melodious voice (the wick turned way down in this case) to drag me on to her line.

But why should I want to sing a duet, being but a shuffling octogenarian? Because, done well, a duet doesn’t just sound terrific, it is terrific. Perhaps, also, for the same reason my novels have women as central characters. All-male talk wearies me, man without woman is less than half what he should be.

So I’m guilty of positive discrimination. George Eliot, Beryl Burton and Mrs Pankhurst would say I could spare a bit.

And here’s a point: with the best duets only the audience wins.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Keeping in touch

With granddaughter who became Professional Bleeder
With the dead I attach less importance to dates (those artificial milestones) and more to chance reflection on the dead's living influence. That way there's the rest of the year to play with.

My mother's birthday I remember was August 11 but August this year passed without my marking it. For what it's worth she would have been 110, a meaningless factoid. This morning I woke, vaguely aware - as on many other mornings - of my debt to her. Wondering whether I qualified as a dutiful son.

I have my doubts but I did at least write. Here's part of a letter from Philadelphia, ca. 1968

Dear Mum, I note your suggestion of jewellery for Christmas. By the time I received your letter I had made the supreme effort and bought everybody's gifts. I use the words "supreme effort" not as they apply to the act of buying, but to the act of packaging. All my love and devotion to my parents goes into the business of wrapping my gifts safely. It's an evening's work and involves the use of about £1 worth of paper, string and sticky paper tape. As a matter of fact, even more love and devotion goes into the packaging of the Folkestone parcel (ie, to VR's family). This is usually bigger... Yours is fairly utilitarian I'm afraid but I do know you use one and this one's a little gayer. Father's is experimental. We'll see.

NOTES. Secure packing and insurance were essential for UK-bound parcels; otherwise they were routinely stolen in New York. I have no idea what the "utilitarian" and "experimental" gifts were.

US friends, appalled by the RRs’ disinclination to be emotional, would have approved of "love and devotion". But, see, it is repeated and therefore jocular.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Mind the gap

Copyright Gary Larson
JUST ME AND MUSIC; THIS POST
MAY BE  SAFELY IGNORED
Took a step up at last Monday's lesson. I'd been having problems learning We'll Gather Lilacs at home. In my own defence there are reasons: the version I'm learning represents the second voice in what will eventually be a duet. Thus the music is not familiar, nor immediately recognisable as melody; more like an accompaniment. But there was something else.

"Isn't a lot of this set in a minor key?" I asked.

Pleased I'd asked a musico-technical question, V said yes.

"Should I try singing some minor-key scales?"

Pleased this time by a question that was also half-intelligent, V started tinkling the ivories.

Major-key scales are easy: think doh, re, me... as we learned in primary school. Minor-key scales are not as intuitive; there are more half tones which means some notes are closer together and harder to hit precisely. By concentrating and relying heavily on the duffer's crutch (ie, repetition) I did better than I expected.

V sympathised. "Not everyone likes singing in a minor key."

Probably because minor keys are used for downbeat music. But then Mozart's symphony 25 is in G-minor, Bach's cello suite 5 C-minor and Schubert's piano sonata D784 A-minor; none is unremittingly sad.

There's more. When I sing:

And walk together down an En-glish Lane

the minor key turns the gap between "En-" and "-glish" into a difficult jump. When I first do it correctly it sounds alien. A second time and it sounds exactly right. I burst with pride.

Classical music isn't just about being hoity-toity; it nurtures animal spirits.

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Bet it's bad for you

Does any pleasure come without cost?

Sex - think of the risks.
Boozing - prolonged poisoning.
Admiring beauty - flirting with envy.
Learning - filling in an admitted hole.
Passing on skills - showing off.
Creating music - enduring the errors.
Reading - sensing muscles melt.
Watching movies - produced to make money.
Listening to music - the frustration of the inexplicable.
Travel - re-creating that which one's escaping from.
Doing good works - while questioning one's motives.
DIY - a botch that denies others employment.
Sport - the pretence that futile action is important.
Writing poetry - whispering inaudibly to the deaf.
Speaking a foreign language - mostly getting it wrong.
Parenthood - "Sharper than a serpent's tooth..."

I wonder about intentionally wasting time, ie, playing Solitaire. I see it as entering a tranquil state which neither harms me nor anyone else. After all, I'm pretty sure the alternative, in my case, is not improving the world. I may even be marginally more attractive playing Solitaire and thus not talking. But my unproductivity may irritate those who are forced to work.

Preferring to eat imaginative food. A pretty specialised preference. OK provided one doesn't talk about it; even more so, not proselytise.

Science is a great pleasure but possibly because it separates me from the "eng. lit. only" brigade. I can't decide whether being above average height pleases me; perhaps it might if it became: "Not being small".

Sleeping? A nothingness. Can defeatism be OK?

Kubla Khan decreed a pleasure dome but didn't say what a ticket cost.

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

It's called a contretemps

My first cold since I started learning to sing. I stood at V's front door explaining why she should mark me absent, as much for her as me. Can’t have her getting the sniffles. Trouble is my colds often get chesty and that lasts two months.
      
Went home and deleted two vocal recordings I'd just posted on Tone Deaf (Abschied, Tom Bowling). Being mildly bereft I reckoned both to be sub-standard.
      
The morning was thus blank. I felt like a skier who'd traversed a narrow, bare-boned, forest gallery and emerged on to a sunny boulevard piste, a hundred meters wide, well compacted and at a gentle angle. Only to be told to walk down, carrying my skis! Worse than bereft.
      
I reflect on lessons. The mood is now one of conviction; it’s something I need to do. Like breathing.
      
V's compliments are terser, her solutions self-revelatory. I’m presumed to be score competent which is hard but flattering. These days V leads me sneakily by the back door to the answers. Then stands with her palms turned outwards: meaning, you knew you could do it, you old silly. Alarmed I realise I’m no longer a novice.
      
But light-years from my destination; if I get there it’ll be by merit. If merit's lacking I'll become a non-singer. And non-singers outnumber singers a thousand to one. Non-singers belong to a club with no subscriptions, no rules, no kudos and no benefits. Where one judges one’s self for membership. I'll know, oh yes, I'll know.

Priritin to stop dribbling; Night Nurse for the sledge-hammer at bedtime. Then Day Nurse. No music there.
      
NOTE: The pic is a chicken biriani by VR. It looked like a crusted jewel and it was the best she’s ever done. Might it be a symbol, an augury...?

Friday, 9 September 2016

Blessed be the glue that binds

Even our worst enemies would agree VR and I "get on". I should add, parenthetically, our worst enemies are much fewer these days. Not because we're more likeable, rather we don't go out much and risk further antagonism.

Agreement is obviously a key factor. Neither of us has ever voted Tory, drunk a Baileys, watched Mrs Brown's Boys, wanted to visit Florida or considered owning a Ford. What's more our preferences often converge. Independently we have opted for more decorative duvet covers (see pic). All vital matters.

We appear to compartmentalise our main disagreements. VR doesn't urge me to eat cucumber (which she loves) and she sleeps through the Six Nations Rugby Championship on telly.

But there are oddities. The above pic shows our most used dessert plates; VR went out and bought the plain white one, says she likes it. Given the choice I avoid it, preferring the other two. I'll go further; the nonentity of that white plate disturbs me. We've ceased to discuss this.

VR likes an orange to finish off her lunch; she peels it and sets it out neatly as a ring of scallops. The segments of my peeled satsuma are merely scattered. I abhor time wasted in food preparation but keep quiet on the subject.

I suspect VR views my dislike of Huw Edwards as an affectation; certainly she makes small animal-like noises to suppress my outbursts during News At Ten. She, on the other hand, is incapacitated if a former leader of the Conservatives appears on telly; I view him with mild distaste.

Sticking together for 56 years is not necessarily commendable, it could be the side-effect of inertia. I don't think that's the case, honestly.

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Back to twin tracks

Late last November I started a fifth novel wondering - aged eighty - whether I'd finish it. I knew its clunky title, Hardship Hope, would need replacing.

In January, suddenly, I took my first singing lesson. The subsequent elation - endlessly documented - caused Hardship Hope to be sidelined at only 18,000 words. It was hard concentrating on mere words with Sarastro's bass lines running between my ears.

One aim has always been to sing a duet with a soprano. This requires preparation of a different order, as much technical as musical. I accept this and am "buckling down". In a more balanced state of mind I've resumed the novel.

I realised the title's dullness had held me back; it made the MS seem dull. The novel's now called Rictangular Glasses (the misspelling is intentional) and suddenly I have 23,805 words. A corner has been turned, a new chapter begun. The scene's no longer North Birmingham but a hotel in Mauritius:

Astonishing, given the heat, the number of orders for curry soup although she was fairly sure she knew the answer to that one. Today was Wednesday half-way through most bookings and many diners, bored senseless by the blandness of the so-called international cuisine, were probably desperate – as Lindsay had been – for food with any kind of zip. Even at this distance the disenchantment was palpable: cutlery immobilised above plates that offered nothing in the way of stimulation. Another half an hour and she could hop on her bike and meet Shakeel at the Magnetisme for some real food.

That done and I'm ready to tease out the musical sense of: "And all I meant to doo-oo..." with its A-sharp and B-natural, signifying a minor key and (for me) a non-intuitive passage. Renaissance Man in miniature.

Saturday, 3 September 2016

Another vocal

The intro to Tone Deaf's home page kicks off - inexplicably, even hysterically - with reference to a passage in Shakespeare, where Lady Percy's love for her now dead husband, Harry Hotspur, keeps bursting through her attempts to dissuade her father-in-law from going to war.

Given I was bumptious enough to record my progress in singing, a recent mania, I decided I might now resurrect earlier feelings for this passionate, richly feminine declamation. However whenever I read this passage aloud my voice always cracks at a certain line. But, I reasoned, this surely wouldn't happen if I was reading for the microphone.

It did. But I've left the sob in because it's authentic and it seems to work.

LADY PERCY'S LAMENT.

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Proof of the vital signs

Bad experiences are more fun to write about. But unremitting gloom can clog up one's veins. I have had my ecstatic moments.

Returning to newspapers after RAF national service. Re-joining a meritocracy and disdaining the tyranny of hierarchic numbskulls.

Leaving Yorkshire to work in London. A new world I knew I could bend to my own pleasure.

The beginning of any school summer holiday. A brief end to being talked at; a time for unhampered speculation.

The first controlled parallel turn. Being at one with acres of compacted snow and - blissfully - the mountains.

The first significant date. Tightrope walking during the initial phone call; relief at not tumbling into the abyss of rejection.

Fitness at the Outward Bound Mountain School. Carrying a huge tent and two Primus stoves on my back; joyfully recognising they weren't a burden.

The first all-crawl half-mile. Afterwards champagne bubbles in the blood; more mundanely - endorphins.

Being lunched out by a literary agent who'd read my novel. Was this...? Might I...? Was it too much to...?

Making a group of international journalists laugh. In Japan. I was older than most and profited from that.

Touring the California redwoods with VR in a hired Dodge Charger - all expenses paid. Free lunches do exist.

Being paid bonuses as a magazine editor. Knowing that others weren't.

Arriving in New York; being shaved by a barber. Everyone spoke with a US accent and I seemed to fit in.

Alive and in my eighties. My distaste for death: a lack of vivid conversation

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

From flahs to restless waves

“Yes,” says V, “the introduction of We’ll Gather Lilacs is rubbish.”

Not just a repetitive melody but banal words:

Though you are far away,
And life is dull and grey,
I have a scheme, a dream,
To try.
I’m thinking dear of you,
And all I meant to do,
When we’re together,
You and I.
We’ll soon forget our care and pain...


“But,” says V, “it’s a simple duet for you to start with.” I, the beginner, am less likely to be “pulled” off my line when V, the expert, sings something different. A technical matter, then.  Except the score I had downloaded and rehearsed the week before only had the main line, not the second. Which V now requires me to sight-read from her complete score.

Musical chaos, not least because I fail to “jump” the alternating main line. We both agree I need more work. So what next? Shyly I mention I’ve been singing the deliciously mournful Tom Bowling recently; I have the score, might we sing that together but in unison, not as a duet? V doesn’t know Tom but is game.

And thus another musical epiphany . Each time we re-sing Tom’s first verse, V leaps ahead in learning the song, not the lyrics which she tends to improvise but as her glorious soprano frees itself to expose more of the song’s wonders. From the keyboard V shouts out detail that has escaped me and I breathlessly adjust, always for the better. We end up laughing our heads off.

I drive away still chanting: “Here a sheer hulk, lies poor Tom Bowling, the darling of our crew.” wishing everyone I liked could have shared that lesson with me. Next week Lilacs, with other epiphanies lying in wait.

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Awake my soul and with the sun...

The digital clock winks 06.17; in eight minutes another day of retirement will begin. I doze on beyond 06.25, my usual getting-up time, to be wakened at 06.55 by rain on the roof, plinking on the metal roof vent.

Retirement has occupied 21 years of my lengthy life: getting up at will, comfortable about money, doing mostly what I want, wasting time on Solitaire. Writing as now, singing musical phrases repeatedly to get them right, devoting an hour a month to ordering wine.

Between April 1951 and August 1995 I messed about in journalism because it was all I ever wanted to do, all I was equipped to do. But on retirement I was glad to go. Last night I dreamed of Stockholm, a lovely city; my work took me to Sweden quite frequently. The dreamed detail of the city – static and dynamic – was pleasingly sharp and coherent. I wish I was there with VR but celebration looms, a moderately ambitious project in a remote part of what may soon be the dis-United Kingdom.

My slippers should be beneath the bedroom chair, ready to slide into without fuss. But the cleaner has slightly displaced them and this irritates the Hell out of me. I wear my heavy dressing gown suspecting it will be unnecessary. It is, I’m already sweating.

Downstairs I use a Supranettes wipe to remove eyelid guck; swig chilled fizzy water from the fridge. Gain old-age relief from peeing in the downstairs loo.

And now here I am, staring at the expensive Ilyama monitor, daydreaming in words. Apart from close family, nobody depends on me; I am not needed; I am retired and thus in a state of mild recklessness. I may do anything but will probably end up doing not much.

Thursday, 18 August 2016

The dark of light

Light music worries me. Officially "music with an immediate appeal" which "bridges the gap between classical and popular music", it aims "to entertain and enjoy" and offers "a strong emphasis on melody". My immediate reaction is: why bother?

Light music includes operettas - operas that have shrunk in the wash, typically by Gilbert and Sullivan and Offenbach. Other light composers include Johann (not Richard) Strauss, Sousa, Eric Coates and Robert Farnon none of whom race my motor. Enthusiasts for this genre must have taken a knock when "light" transmuted recently into "lite", generally taken to be insubstantial and unimportant.

So why, you may ask, did I download the score of Ivor Novello's We'll Gather Lilacs In The Spring Again - echt light music - and why am I presently and hurriedly teaching myself to put notes to such lines as:

Although you're far away,
And life is sad and grey.


The obvious answer is: V said I should. The final ten minutes of Monday's lesson were devoted to a scrambled attempt on my part to sight-read Lilacs (Honestly, I'm not that good.) with promise of more to come next Monday.

Now you know me. I'm pretentiously and boringly committed to musical masterworks: Grosse Fuge, Cosi, Ives' Concord sonata, Bach's English Suite. How come I'm prepared to swallow Lilacs? Because, says V, she and I will eventually do it as a duet. I've always yearned to do a duet.

It makes sense. Duets are as thrilling as music gets but for the moment Rodolfo (with Mimi in Boheme), Papageno (with Papagena in Flute) and Wotan (with Brünnhilde in Walkure) are way beyond me. Novello must be my baby-walker

One good thing: Sinatra's done Lilacs.

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Up against it

RE-WRITTEN FOR GREATER CLARITY. For much of the past year I've suffered from stress; the basis for this, which I am deliberately omitting, was not medical. There were periods I could push the stress aside but, more recently, as a resolution of the situation got nearer, the stress intensified: I could not sleep, concentrate on writing, or enjoy the daydreaming that comes with retirement. As I saw it the resolution would take one of three forms: one unpleasantly life-changing, another serious but bearable, the third entirely happy.

Late on Friday afternoon the situation was resolved and it led to the third possibility - the happy one.  As a bonus I recognised that the stress may have been the product of my over-imagination. Perhaps, retrospectively, that makes the stress unrealistic, even negligible. It wasn't.

But here's the point I want to consider: my state of mind when I learnt the good news. You'd expect something joyous, wouldn't you? A flash of light? A spreading warmth? A heavenly relaxation?

None of that. Emptiness best describes it. Yes I was glad but gladness is probably an intellectual reaction. But what about emotion - real emotion? There was almost nothing there. I manufactured some emotion by driving to Tesco and buying the store's most expensive champagne. Taittinger, as it happens. VR and I drank it watching cheering events in Brazil's Olympic velodrome.

Half a day later I’m disappointed I wasn't happier. Perhaps this makes me perverse; worse, a lover of cliché endings which I appear to have been denied in this case. Perhaps you, dear reader, think this was a storm in a teacup. But do teacup storms last months?
 

Friday, 12 August 2016

Impasse?

Have I written my blogging self to a standstill?

Works Well (May 2, 2008 to Jan 30, 2012) 548 posts = 1.6m words; 3824 75-word comments, of which one in three are probably mine = 1m words. My comments elsewhere (160 weeks @ six 75-word comments/week = 0.7 m words). WW total 3.3m words.

Tone Deaf (Dec 2 2011 to Aug 7 2016) 689 posts = 2.1m words; 4693 100-word comments, of which one in three are probably mine = 1.6m words; my comments elsewhere (242 weeks @ six 100-word comments/week = 1.5m words). TD total 5.2m words.

Blogging total 8.5m words.

Compared with A la Recherche... 1.3m words, Ulysses 0.3m words, The Man Without Qualities - wordage unknown, only I appear to have read it.

I mean, is there anything left to say?

Well there's always a post about how many words I've written. And an extract from my current novel
Hardship Hope. New title? A Woman Magnified (20,494 words)

Lindsay spread her hands. “I’m a woman. A twenty-first century woman competing with all those Shimatsu*-selling men. Ironically, I need a man’s help. Only a man can judge my effectiveness in a man’s world. Only a man can talk about – how should I put it? – the assets I bring to the party.”

He smiled thinly. “True. But you already know the answers otherwise you’d never have raised the point.”

“So it’s down to instinct. As it always is.” She paused. “Sexual instinct, to be precise.”

*Shimatsu - a range of Japanese supercars.

Sunday, 7 August 2016

How we became who we are

The English queue; Americans, prosaically, stand in line. Perhaps because queue is harder to spell.

The English joke about queueing, claiming to be “good at it” but it’s not a joke. Secretly the English see it as the basis of a calm and ordered society, whereas it could suggest national passivity. I’m sure Italians, who are very bad at queueing, especially for ski-lifts, view the English as passive.

My theory is that the English docilely form queues because we must, it is now part of our psyche born of the period 1945 – 1955 which should have been triumphal but was instead devoid of hope. We had just won a war (or that’s what we told ourselves) and we had virtually nothing. What little we had we queued for: infrequent buses, seats in the cinema, a pitiful range of groceries, sweets (US: candy) and – for all I know – accommodation in the cemeteries. Also the services of a doctor.

Then, you didn’t book a doctor’s appointment, most of us didn’t have phones. You turned up, stood then sat in the packed waiting room, went in when it was your turn.

“When it was your turn” – how freighted with emotion those words are. You were met by the bovine stare of two-dozen middle-aged people, all clearly suffering, all wearing worn overcoats probably bought pre-war. You memorised their faces and counted them off as they responded to the doctor’s buzzer. But 24 faces are a lot to remember. And don’t forget, latecomers were replacing those who had gone before.

Nervous tension was palpable. Did the trembling woman in widow’s weeds, carrying a basket, arrive ahead of you? What happened if you accidentally jumped the queue? Tranquillisers hadn’t then been invented but the English were inventing themselves.

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Domino Theory revisited

John Foster Dulles, US secretary of state under Eisenhower, coined The Domino Theory, a more elegant way of saying "one damn thing leads to another." Thus if, say, Andorra goes Commie today, Germany may go tomorrow. A way of keeping us terrified about the Red Bogeyman.

But the theory can also apply domestically.

Months ago one wall of our living room was dominated by custom shelving for about 700 CDs. (Pic above shows 25% of total.) As explained I transferred the CDs to an SD card and now play them through a mini-laptop.

The CDs went up to the attic.

Leaving empty shallow shelves which VR filled temporarily with her collection of little milk jugs.

Then the 18-year-old living room carpet started to wear. But should the replacement carpet be fitted under the CD shelf units (as now) or merely abut them? The carpet, yet to be chosen, will go under the units, which meant an electrician would have to re-position a power socket to make the units mobile.

Meanwhile VR was fed up looking at her jugs  as if through letter-boxes. Could we have more depth variety? But the shelves were irreversibly installed as the units were built; removing them by any known method would damage their neatness. Even DIY expert Sir Hugh baulked.

The electrician had an answer. Using a conventional saw UPSIDE DOWN cut a slot up through the middle of a shelf. Then hit the shelf with a hammer. The shelf breaks at the slot and the two halves tear away from the pegs holding them at the ends. Minor damage within the shelves can be disguised with wood-stain.

Did I mention the new audio system plays the TV through the hi-fi loudspeakers? A great improvement.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Not quite LEJOG

Belmont Road's old council flats, now happily replaced
LEJOG stands for Land's End to John O'Groats, the sort of long-distance walk brother Sir Hugh goes in for. He's at it now in the West Country. I attempt to compete with more modest projects.

They’re laying new gas mains in Belmont Road; murder if I want to drive down to the city, but walking I can race the immobilised cars. More than two months and my hair needs cutting.

I walk hard along adjacent thoroughfares - Dorchester, Stanbury, Chichester – then suddenly bethink myself: I’m an old man hurrying. What’s his problem, people will ask? If it’s his bladder he’s going the wrong way.

Past Tesco’s car-wash, a noisy, thrashing device frequently labelled Out Of Order. I’m not a patron; pay six quid and it rains. Hereford mud is reddish and stands out on a car’s flanks.

Beyond is Tesco itself, convenient but never surprising. No, I tell a lie. This year strawberries were superlative. And robust champagne at a tenner, identifiably from Rheims, not flat prosecco nor insipid cava. Now I’m into Belmont Road and my feet, softened by wearing trainers, start to ache slightly. I should be proud of this self-mortification but at my age you start to worry: am I overdoing things? The alliterative image of a pensioner prostrate on the pavement, other pensioners pondering and powerless.

The council flats on the right have been replaced with smart terraces and I’m glad the city can afford this. What I’m not glad about is the bookie’s shop next to the mini-market. Should the nominally poor be tempted?

This is the tedious bit, I can see half a mile ahead, under the old railway bridge, Beeching-ised in the sixties, now a grossly over-engineered footbridge. On the left the new Polish deli which I welcomed; until I picked out a chunk of smoked pork and found I couldn’t buy it. It carried no price.

Not far now to Body Beautiful, a salon I don’t usually admit to. For obvious reasons

Friday, 22 July 2016

Audio experiment

FINALLY...

As Nathalie and I discovered, there are various ways of embedding a playable audio file in a post, none intuitive, none in the end effective. For deep-seated personal reasons I was compelled to refuse Marly's recommendation (Mac stuff) and Avus's (YouTube). When MikeM suggested Picosong the process seemed too easy. A glitch occurred but it was down to me, not the software. Second time around I managed to record and play a SONNET I wrote some years ago.

Then I sang and recorded Schubert's

 ABSCHIED *

the song I'm presently studying. The minute I knew it worked I deleted it. The performance needed work.

It still does, despite six or seven goes. Two things you must know. This is a classic German Lied where voice and piano enjoy equal standing. My version lasts two minutes, the real thing is double that, the text being separated into lovely islands of sound surrounded by moats of elegant keyboard stuff. Mine is in no sense authentic.

It's also work-in-progress. Without a piano my a capella voice wanders away from the notes. And I'm well aware there's an umlaut in betrübt also that Germans don't pronounce the -chen diminutive suffix the way I do. All I can say it's better than it would have been half a year ago.

Thank you all for your interest, help and patience.

* Now re-sung and re-recorded (many times). Best played fairly quietly.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Am I a natural C-minus?

Shy, died at 31 of an STD, songs for angels and the common herd
No fool like an old fool. Aged eighty I started singing lessons on January 4. Most of my life I've listened to music, live and recorded, mainly classical from operas to string quartets, and I’ve played trumpet, recorder and mouth organ by ear - badly, devoid of rhythmic sensibility. Forgetting some months with a church choir before my voice broke I’d had no formal instruction.
             
Half a year on; how's it gone?

I now know that technoid terms – semi-quavers and three-four time – are a turn-off however simplified. People’s eyes glaze over. So none of that.
      
Recently I’ve studied a glorious Schubert song Abschied (Farewell). It contains a phrase Hör verschwimmen... (Listen, becoming blurred...) the first note of which is an E. Whoops! That’s technoid. How about: just reachable by me. But the German word Hör has a bastard vowel to do singingly. There’s a trick involved and I managed to solve part of it myself.

Normally I ignore my reflection while shaving; I’ve seen it before and it’s starting to melt. But the reflection lets me experiment with mouth openings as I sing and these help develop a musical tone of voice. Variable progress there.

As well as V’s expert tuition.

I’ve recorded my own Abschied and sounded, say, bearable. But that’s my opinion. It’s V’s too but she’s frequently kind. I need another audience.

A special kind of audience. Capable of responding to Schubert while making allowances. Perhaps devoid of musical language but able to form judgments beyond generalised adjectives. That sings to itself in unguarded moments – because singing meets some unspecified need. That would be cast down without music.

No sweat, anyway. I don’t yet know how to post my own voice.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Toil's nobility

Is the word "skiving" still current? I'm not sure. The last time I saw it mentioned seemed to suggest its definition had moved on. For me it means "avoiding work".

Skiving's peak usage in the UK occurred between the early fifties and the mid sixties. A time when young men were wrenched out of civilian life for two years, given hairy ill-fitting uniforms and employed often in repetitive and meaningless work which, the authorities pretended, gave Britain greater justification for acting out its diminished role on the world stage. As an alternative some of these unfortunates were sent to notoriously unstable places and got their heads shot off for their pains. The time of National Service, occasionally sub-titled National Disservice.

Faced with mind-blowingly dull work, many amateur soldiers and airmen (few ended up in the Royal Navy) took to skiving. An understandable displacement therapy. I did it myself. Supposedly guarding acres of offices, mainly unoccupied, I disappeared into the night, sat on a lav and read Animal Farm with an RAF torch.

The trouble was not all skivers took to Orwell. True skivers believed that any occupation - however restrictive - was preferable to the job they'd been told to do. Asked to sweep a room, your true skiver would boast at having avoided this by imprisoning himself in the broom closet for half an hour.

My concern with National Service was that the two years (60m seconds!) passed achingly slowly. And that 30 minutes in a broom closet might only enhance this sensation. Given the option I would have swept the room and accepted the jeers of my so-called co-servicemen on the grounds of my cowardice and truckling to authority.

I skive now. Play Solitaire when I should be writing. But that's different.