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.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Election cast list, No 1

On Thursday June 8, Britain – that basket of basket-cases which includes England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – will hold a general election. Today’s polls suggest the ruling Tories will oblivionate (New election, new verb!) the importunate Labour Party by 19 percentage points.

Why the bloodbath? Labour has weakened itself by internal argument but then such strife is written into Labour’s DNA and the party has a predilection for electoral suicide. However in this instance Labour can do little other than argue, the topic being Jeremy Corbyn, the leader.

Jeremy isn’t a name that hints at strength. Nor does his appearance. Boiled down for stock he’d not make half a litre. Also he’s very, very left. In the USA, where giving a quarter to a mendicant might be called socialism, Jeremy would be handled with tongs at Kennedy immigration. In his time he’s been friends with Hamas, has supported the IRA, and hates nuclear weapons. A decent guy but more of a protestor than a politician.

He became Labour leader almost by accident, a process too whimsical for me to explain. When his so-called failings were revealed, a new leadership competition was hastily engineered. That he won by taking 61% of the vote, yet many Labour MPs disown him. He is on record as saying he will not attack individuals only their political practices. And so he does. It chokes me to say it but an excess of decency is not necessarily a virtue.

I can’t ask for a miracle, I don’t believe in them. The ensuing weeks will be like watching a spider in the bath with the hot water on.

Poor guy.

Even poorer me.

Friday, 21 April 2017

Tone Deaf's manifesto

Woke up this morning and thought I'm eighty-one and might easily die under eternal Tory government. A government that makes me ashamed to be British - presently pondering economy measures that are also anti-foreigner: TO ELIMINATE ALL INTERNATIONAL AID! Oh Britain, you wretched, inward-looking offshore island dreaming of Empire and colonial slavery

Perhaps for most of the next eight weeks leading to the"snap" general election, I should forgo blogging about singing and persiflage. For it was V, my singing teacher, who unintentionally pressed my guilt button. As someone whose professional life has been moulded by Brahms and Mozart (while not disdaining home-grown Britten and Quilter) she found the referendum result hard to take. She admits she's never done a political act in her life before but she's now a signed-up member of a party and will at least stuff leaflets through letter-boxes.

Me? I've always voted, but tactically; there's never been a realistic option. My politics, if it can be considered that serious, has been to belong to a trade union frequently led by Trotskyists. Hot lefties urging me to scorn my long-time employer who - retrospectively - turned out both generous and benign and who financed my most comfortable retirement.

Tone Deaf aims to be satirical, for the potential is limitless. Britain is presently led by Theresa May who claims to be "strong". Margaret Thatcher was also "strong". It is said that Tory politicians, many of whom had Nannies, appreciate the "strong", disciplinary women who flogged their backsides with a hairbrush when they disobeyed nursery rules. Sometimes prickle side down.

I'll be their new Nanny. It won’t be a hairbrush and I won't be looking for reconciliation.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Nine bean rows I will not have

Why sing?

Mozart, Schubert, Britten, etc. More recently, Roberta Flack.

Do I imagine it'll raise me to a toffee-nosed elite? Perhaps. But that doesn’t make singing any easier. Singing is like poaching quails’ eggs (Very difficult; ask VR.) and it's cruel; errors cause a trapdoor to open in my colon.

I can end up épuisé as the French say. Exhausted.

But there's better news .

We oldsters are keen to hang on to our musculature and our little grey cells. T S Eliot says "I will show you fear in a handful of dust" and we shudder at that. We look to delay the dust moment.

Writing fiction exercises my mind but does nothing for my ever frailer body. Same thing if I'd taken up painting. Or decided to read improving books.

Singing lessons involve training the throat to resonate like an organ pipe. For me that's started to happen and it’s added a cubit to my stature (see Holy Bible). Before, I laboriously created notes and had to kick them past my teeth; now, from time to time, they slide away, eager to be out.

Effort's involved but it’s more intelligent effort. Better still, such singing promotes wellbeing. The noises I make are closer to what great men (and great V, my teacher) had in mind. OK Wolfgang, Franz, Ben? OK V? Can you guess what it's like to sing a song that's endured 250 years? I feel healthier and fitter yet I’m still sitting down. It sure beats jogging. And, ca va dire, gardening.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Life not as we would wish

This theme arrived, ready-made, at about three this morning. Is it in any sense original?  Viable? Interesting?

We fall in love. For now love is not returned but there is no animosity. We are, however, allowed the presence of the beloved.

The beloved stands before us and that is the reality: the looks, the predisposition, the intelligence, the good, the bad. But reality is a neutral state conferred by nature, uninvolved and unjudging. We are involved and we do judge, thus our version of reality is distorted. The longer we see and communicate with the beloved the greater the distortion.

We go away and, in tranquillity, ponder the beloved. Without any immediacy to rein in our thoughts we speculate and we fantasise. We invest the beloved with qualities that may not be supported by any form of reality, ours or the neutral one; we may even imagine an improved appearance.

We return to the beloved. We may be refreshed but those speculations and fantasies do not necessarily go away; they may even be augmented because by now our means of assessing the beloved are defective, compromised by our feelings.

These distortions may be the result of trying to imagine a "better" beloved. A disagreement between us may test this tendency and we may suppress its effects. But as any psychotherapist will say: suppressed tendencies merely move to another room.

Perhaps the beloved relents and loves us back. We unite and live together, each with our distorted versions of each other. At a later, sadder moment, a distortion is recognised for what it is. Recognised but not accepted as self-wrought. We call treachery, we seek to blame. But what or whom may we blame?

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Innocent abroad

On Friday I went shopping; it's decades since I did. For me going shopping is moral depravity.

Going shopping's when you wander into Retail-Land wanting to spend money. On what doesn't really matter. You simply crave the transaction.

I had elder daughter, Professional Bleeder, for company and we were in Abergavenny Music. Theoretically I wanted a DVD of Bartok's opera, Bluebeard's Castle, but I knew they wouldn't have it. They didn't. I ordered it (which I could have done by phone). I asked for a score of Schubert's song, Du bist die Ruh, which I didn't need. Cost £2, but they didn't have that either. Instead I bought two bound collections of scores costing £28. I definitely didn't need them. Outside I noticed one was arranged for High Voices; I'm a baritone.

In a book-shop I discovered a tome-ish paperback on musical theory. I stood at the shelving, flicking through, wondering whether I'd ever read it. But standing proved irksome and wasn't helping me make up my mind. Then I spotted two easy chairs. I sat down, flicked some more, decided yes. Complimented the woman at the till on the chairs.

In an elaborate new butcher's there was brisket on the bone. I love brisket but was mildly surprised to find it associated with bone. Only the possibility that VR lacked freezer space (suggested by PB) stayed my hand.

Recently I bought a decanter that  turned out unusable. In a cheapo chain I saw a carafe, typical of French cafés. I hovered but PB discovered it cost a ridiculous £40. An industrial-size bottle of Head & Shoulders shampoo was labelled £3.15. I sighed. My present bottle is still half full and will last well into 2018.

Buying isn't absolutely necessary when "going shopping". Exposing oneself to the risk is.

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Daughter/Dad chat

In endoscopy you swallow a small fibre-optic thingummy plus 1 metre of cabling. A gift subject for a blogger.

Alternatively the thingummy enters by (Ahem!) the basement. Thereafter good taste governs what you write.

I described my top-end job (A journey to the middle of the patient) on May 21 2008 blogging as Barrett Bonden in Works Well. It drew one comment.

Unheralded, yesterday, came an email labelled "Endoscopy" from younger daughter, Occasional Speeder:

Well that was a barrel of laughs... All clear though x

I responded:

Were you told - four times, as I was, and by different people - you would be dosed with something tasting of lemons? The actual taste being definitely acidulé but magnified to the power of ten, intended to put you off lemons for the rest of your natural. And thus you lay and there'd be a little twitch way down; you told yourself "I mustn't gip, I mustn't gip." but you gipped anyway and it felt like you were wearing your backbone inside your throat, instead of outside as is normal.

OS responded
:
They didn't say “lemons”, they said it tasted “agricultural” - which was quite accurate as to me it tasted of the smell of chicken shit. Gipped quite a bit. Eyes watered but yes that weird backbone thing was there. There was a lot of soothing as my leg kept involuntarily twitching. It's possibly in my top 5 horrid things ever - along with childbirth, tooth abscess (in fact most teeth things), finding cucumber unexpectedly in your mouth and the Intermarché at Jct 54 on the A75.

The latter two shockers are deeply personal and need not concern readers. I asked to use OS's emails in Tone Deaf and I'm proud of her style.

Friday, 31 March 2017

Another world

London, where I once lived, isn't Hereford, where I presently live. London isn't even Britain. It's a crowded corral where an elite endures extreme circumstances. An elite that includes the poor and the rich.

Two nights ago I stood on the south bank of the Thames taking in this sight. These flickering decorations are the headquarters of banks - detestable institutions rendered slightly less inhumane by their remoteness.

VR and I had just heard a free Schumann recital by musicians based on an elegant campus influenced by Sir Christopher Wren. His other works include St Pauls Cathedral.

Previously a taxi driver had driven us through an area disfigured by long-standing construction work. What are they making? we asked. "Probably a cycle track," he said. The joke was he knew quite well.

We were staying with friends in the south-east of the city (part of the elite, I suppose). To reach the city centre we'd propitiated robots by waving plastic symbols of wealth at them; our railed carriage took us from one concentration of light to the next. In London light is profligately disbursed.

Two small plastic containers of strangely citrousy beer and a teaspoonful of malbec from Argentina would have paid for a week's labour from a Lithuanian working in Hereford. But not for long now.

Non-residents - both fearful and envious - are constantly aware of their role as transients in this city. From London Donald Trump becomes a black hole: menacing but distant and apparently empty.

Sunday, 26 March 2017

RR circumscribed


Life has been reduced by a heavy cold. The sort people who've never had flu say is flu. I once had flu, a near-death experience; heavy colds are unpleasant but nowhere near.

Going outdoors becomes a struggle. VR wanted - post-birthday - to buy a summer jacket and we went down to Hereford by bus. I made one outrageous suggestion after another and the project foundered.

I played music by Hovhaness and John Ireland, to prove my intellect was intact. The stool (see pic) allows me to sit at the mini-computer, browsing through 8046 tracks that form the extremities of my musical taste over sixty years. Previously I'd have shuffled back and forth on my knees, looking at CD spines. Now the CDs are in the attic, their content transferred to the mini's hard disc. Let's have no nonsense about the presence of CDs being a comfort.

Once I'd have eschewed drugs. But I'm old and these days I'll reach out for any solace. Day Nurse followed Night Nurse and I was disturbed by a highly charged nightmare about lost luggage. We share a bottle of champagne but I fret because VR doesn't consume her glasssfuls quickly enough.

I recognise pathos in Donald Trump. Earlier he described Alec Baldwin's Trump-parody as "unfunny" despite TV audiences roaring with laughter. When his infamous healthcare bill was withdrawn a day ago he seemed distrait, drumming his fingers and saying there'd been "no help from Democrats", as if this was surprising.

Handkerchiefs. No, I’d better not go into that.

My blocked-up sinuses create a novel, resonating cathedral nave inside my noggin. This allows me to sing entirely plausible low notes without effort. But are these notes for real? I record them on to a CD for playback on V’s machine. More later.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Scrapbook day

For complex reasons VR's birthday falls on a diet day and the celebrations are muted as we hang around, feeling the cold invade our bodies deprived of calories. I buy her a bonsai plus a Beatrix Potter owl pendant which I (brilliantly) imagine can be draped round the branches in decoration. But VR says the pendant is "good enough to wear" and I have mixed feelings about that. Instructions accompanying the bonsai suggest the mini-tree will be a demanding companion and we might as well have had a baby (I jest). Seamus Heaney's poetic translation of Aeneid VI represents a less equivocal prezzie.

I reflect on times since 1959, mostly repeats, I fear.

In London, that year, we both have Thursday off. We take the Metropolitan Line westwards, get off and walk to Amersham. Misty October, the month Britain does incomparably. Decades later I recall the day’s tactility and write a SONNET. Not my best but heartfelt.

Evening omelettes in Soho. Beyond the restaurant window a lady of the night disappears and reappears, plying her trade. We watch detachedly, unembarrassed by each other.

Delivery room, Charing Cross hospital, London. I hold VR's hand but heat and an incautious midnight hamburger combine to make me queasy and I'm sent to the viewing window. A nurse says, "It's a girl".

California: finalising a book for publication (It's about valves.). I drive a hired Dodge Charger between redwoods worried we're running out of gas.

Linden Crescent, Kingston-upon-Thames, our first owned house, December. The plumber’s finished and switches on the new central heating. To Hell with open fires.

Anytime. VR makes Eggs Mornay.

Along the Loire Valley, France, in the newly acquired Scirocco. Beethoven’s Andante Favori playing from a cassette. View and music in harmony.

Anytime. Me writing, VR fiddling with the Hudl.

Friday, 17 March 2017

Wrapping up Borderline

Rest of 23 movies seen at Borderline festival.

Jackie. Well-dressed, much smoking, I couldn't mesh. Jackie K, we must remember, soon became Jackie Onassis.

Frantz. In effect a post-war film of Wilfred Owen's war poem, Strange Meeting. Character study of two nations, now uneasily peaceful.

The Olive Tree (see pic). Feelgood, best-appreciated Borderline movie (97% pro). Youth's tribute to age; rural Spain vs. urban Germany.

Julieta. I've always enjoyed director Aldomovar's special strangeness but found this too complex, slightly hysterical. VR and Ian liked it so who am I to belly-ache?

Return to Ithaca. Two or three long conversations by four middle-aged post-Franco Spaniards who all suffered. Grew on me.

A Quiet Passion. See post: The Surprise Factor

The Handmaiden. Luxuriant Oriental lesbian porn (sadism added) with awkward flashbacks. Don't take your grandchildren.

A Simple Life. Modern-day Tokyo realism at its best. Age as an ineluctable force. Characters you wanted to hug.

Personal Shopper. Séances, high fashion and young folks' misery.  I'm too old for this, always was.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople. Youth buddie-bonds with age in NZ escape movie. Amateurish, less charming than it thought it was.

It's Only The End Of The World. Claustrophobic (too many close-ups) acount of Canadian family's failure to communicate. Stellar performances, though.

A Taste Of Cherry. Man in a car, on a mission in arid Iraq, puts dilemma-ish proposition to three others. Couldn't take my eyes off it.

Sunday, 12 March 2017

Magically transformed

Modern-day Eldwick. The self-conscious rock is very new.
As if it were a pebble in my shoe I grumble about my advanced age too much. Stupid. Here, in my blog I may be any age.

Bingley, Yorkshire, circa 1953. I wear a dull brown mac (short for mackintosh, ie, raincoat) like most local males. Not through lack of imagination, that's all there is in the shops. My hair, as dull brown as my mac, has been cut by a barber; it sits like a wedge atop my head. The sides are shorn bare. I'm on a bus for which I've paid pennies, climbing away from Bingley's mills to a village called Eldwick. Part of my weekly schedule as junior reporter with the Keighley News.

I call at Eldwick's newspaper shop, run by Robin Teasdale, once huntsman with the Airedale Beagles. "Any news?" I ask. He says no, as he always does. Outside I ignore rolling farmland leading up to moors which, I suppose, are exhilarating. For me familiarity has bred contempt.

The school’s headmaster sees me as a relief; he leaves his classroom and smokes a pipe in his office as we chat. He has an appropriate surname (Stone?) which I have now forgotten. Also a nervous tic causing him to grimace every couple of minutes. He seems unaware of this and does it in public before audiences, once caught in full contortion by the photographer from my newspaper.

For news of Eldwick Amateur Dramatic Society I call on one of two quite lovely women, blonde and brunette, in their thirties. One invites me in, the other keeps me on the doorstep. I'm a teenager, full of teenage juices, and I fantasise about both, leaving reluctantly.

These people must now be dead.

A long wait for the return bus. I may walk, since it’s downhill.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

The surprise factor

We may be impressed or moved or disgusted by great works of art. More rarely are we surprised. Even if we've led wilfully sheltered lives we've usually absorbed a host of trailers before we come upon the Rembrandt self-portraits, Boswell's Life of Johnson or Citizen Kane. We are prepared and this can interfere with the way we respond. After all, no one wants to admit - at first sight - that Hamlet's a right old load of rubbish. I should add in support of my High Cultural Virginity this wasn't my initial reaction to the great Danish time-waster.

But I was surprised by Madame Bovary. Oh I knew it was a French classic, a true "modern" novel. But even now, forty or fifty years on, I remember my first act on finishing it. I turned back to the title pages searching for small print that confirmed I hadn't read what the French call Texte intégral but rather an abridgement, perhaps even by Reader's Digest. There had been no hindrances, the story moved at great pace and with fearless clarity. Classics usually demand concentration, some allowances for obsolete language; Bovary moved like a rocket.

Moby Dick also surprised me but this was less admirable, I ended up smug. I'd been warned about the density, the detours and the fog coefficient but I read it straight through as if it were an Agatha Christie. What, I wondered, was the problem? Yes, you're right: utterly insufferable! Alas, Tone Deaf is frequently just that.

Nobody in my group much cared for A Quiet Passion, a recent movie about Emily Dickinson, the poet whose external life was a nothingness. I stayed silent, saw it as a masterpiece. Surprise may be incommunicable.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Easy going

The Cherry mechanical keyboard, above, represents an act of pure indulgence. It replaces a perfectly good membrane unit - recently cleaned! - which cost almost two-thirds less. It offers two barely justifiable advantages: a longer, more positive key-stroke with a noisier, clackety action.

In my lifetime I've typed millions of words and intend to type millions more. Only my toothbush is a more intimate companion than my keyboard. Its businesslike rattle is indirect yet audible proof of a brain doing what brains do. It is the sound of work, my kind of work, both reassuring and pre-emptive. If I were a dentist I'd buy a decent drill, the Cherry is my equivalent.

I jab the keys and their descent is abruptly arrested. I sense this dissipation of energy and it comforts me. Saws rasp, mowers drone, kettles sing and things get done. I'm getting this post done.

The surface of the keys is slightly rough, perhaps promoting a better link with my finger-tips. Certainly I type more confidently.

And more quickly. On a roll the clacks become continuous and this, I suppose, is a measure of my efficiency. Necromantic yet familiar labels - Caps lock, Scroll lock, PgDn - emerge and disappear beneath my flying fingers and I know I'm at home.

I type therefore I am. I type to say I am. I type for the sheer novelty of it. I am not a roomful of monkeys.

Friday, 3 March 2017

A real biggie

At Borderlines we could have booked for Abel Gance's silent five-and-a-half-hour epic, Napoleon. The breaks were kindly (50 minutes for late lunch, 20 minutes with optional tea/coffee and cake, 10 minutes for minor surgery) but we worried about the eventual state of our backsides. I bought the four-DVD set instead and we watched in upholstered comfort at home. In one go from 6 pm to near-midnight.

The film first appeared in 1927 but this version had been digitally restored over decades and includes a musical background adapted mainly from Beethoven's Eroica symphony. Submitting to this ordeal might have seemed masochistic but if you care for movies in the widest sense and feel you need to know more about French history you should take a punt.

Ironically this was only half the story, no mention of Trafalgar or Waterloo, of course. But never mind, for several years Napoleon retrieved France's glory and the preceding events are told with great passion. The central character (played by Albert Dieudonné) becomes part of your family by the end.

But the over-arching drama is the way director Gance pushes movie potential to the absolute limit. If you forget the mainly static camera and the lack of spoken dialogue this becomes a very modern film. Huge crowds are handled with great conviction (The Convention: France's maniacal revolutionary government; the siege of Toulon; and - grandest of all - Napoleon addressing the exhausted French army in Italy) yet the face-to-face scenes involve real people.

At nearly six hours for £22, it's a snip. With whatever wine you care to choose. Bring in the neighbours and gain a reputation for cultural philanthropy.

UPDATE. Checked with Borderlines management and discovered that 73 hardy souls with cast-iron bums (= half the Small Studio) had booked Napoleon. Felt mildly proud of Hereford.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Worldwide films

Ordered a moderately expensive Cherry keyboard - works mechanically and clacks, just like the old Underwoods in the news-room at the Telegraph and Argus in Bradford. Said to be therapeutic.

The Borderline Film Festival continues:

Alone in Berlin. Middle-aged couple distribute anti-Nazi messages in Berlin during war. Despite predictable ending their dogged courage is uplifting. (See pic; yes, that's Emma Thompson!).

Graduation. Slippery moral slope for doctor and family struggling to live in corrupt modern Romania.

The Unknown Girl. Idealistic Belgian doctor, racked by guilt at single minor act of negligence, investigates death of young woman immigrant.

The Salesman. Won Best Foreign Film Oscar this year. Yet another masterpiece from Iran (How do they do it?): assault on woman is explained by couple appearing in production of Miller's Death Of A Salesman. Detailed and persuasive.

La-La Land. Doesn't live up to hype. Musical with feeble tunes, modest dancing by principals and vestigial show-bizz plot lapses into inanition. Jazz sub-plot looks like five minutes spent on Google.

The Headless Woman. Mis-titled, over-ambitious and opaque  story from Argentine about woman whose personality is affected by car accident. Repetitive, uncommunicative and somewhat irritating.

Sunday, 26 February 2017

That time of year

Life is presently complicated. Grandson Ian is staying, Borderlines Film Festival started two days ago, eventually the three of us will see 23 titles in a fortnight. Fitting in blog responses and practice for Mozart's An Chloë (my most demanding song so far) is a real bastard.

We have seen:

Denial (Feelgood movie about Jewish US academic sued by Holocaust denier David Irving; protean performances; fascinating differences between US and UK law systems. See pic.).

Manchester By The  Sea (Manchester in Massachusetts not Lancashire; central character is guilt-ridden Boston janitor facing new responsibilities; a threnody to inarticulacy).

Hell Or High Water (Formulaic, modern-day bank-robbing in Texas but raised a notch by allusions to poverty).

Toni Erdmann (Over-long but witty/funny German tale about father's concerns for business-woman daughter  racked by getting ahead in unconvincing world of meetings and presentations).

Slack Bay (Grossly over-long French nominal parody about class differences in Northern France in Edwardian times; treated as fantasy-cum-farce but with excess knockabout; made irritating by incorporating six false endings just when viewer's resistance is weakest.


For MikeM

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Downhill all the way


Prelude: Brother Sir Hugh has walked heroically in his time: from sea to different sea, along mountain ranges, through gorges. Older now, he reports facing a 3-mile walk and fretting he'll lack material for his blog.
-------------------------
It's upping time and a smear of light downstairs shows through the front-door windows. Fidgety dawn is arriving earlier these days.

I'm at the top of the stairs in my upping-time garb: PJs, heavy fleece dressing gown, loose furry slippers. A decade ago, half-way down, my heels slipped and I bounced on my coccyx; slippers aren't exactly secure and I must go down carefully. I too am older, plus four years more than Sir Hugh.

There are thirteen steps and I recall vaguely there was a similar number at Tyburn, the old public gallows in London. Unlucky for some. It behoves me to hold hard to the handrail but the physics isn't propitious; my grip is in line with the stairs, a grip at right-angles would be stronger.

VR has always urged a tight grip for another reason. Eventually the rail will smoothen and we'll have a patina. Not yet, though; my fingers slide over rough wood underneath the rail. Most descenders will never notice, though.

Directly above the stairs is a tall slab of wall, the backside of our bedroom’s en suite. Hanging on it is VR's huge tapestry of a cockerel. Alas, rarely seen. Going downstairs you don't look out, but down.

My feet slide over the carpeted rim between step and riser. The movement echoes the coccyx slip but today I'm aware and not at risk.

Careful at the bottom. To the unwary there is always one step more. An awful sensation: expecting the ground floor but finding only air.

Distance? 4 metres?

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Comfort's sell-by date

How do you measure time's passage?

Short-term with a wrist-watch (Don't talk about smart phones, p-uh-lease!) Longer term with a calendar. Even longer term by examining physical decay (Gruesome? Yes, but we've all watched those stark science programmes on telly.)

How about via one's material possessions? Because I’m finding that terribly salutary.

We moved to Hereford on VR's birthday in 1998. The house was new, we were its first owners. All those things to buy: three bog brushes because we now had three bogs, a huge load of light-bulbs, carpets. Carpets for a slew of empty rooms. A small fortune but never mind, we wouldn't have to think about carpets ever again. Or, let's say, for a very long time.

And nineteen years is a long time. Along the way we replaced the stair carpet and the one in the living room but we rationalised them; both had got a lot of hammer over the years.

But the bedroom carpet is another matter. It's a comforting dark green which we both love. When my feet touch its texture in the morning, it confirms I've survived another night. But now the dark green is faded and there are bubbles. Goodness we've hardly seemed to walk on it at all, and then often without shoes. It covers the floor as my skin covers my flesh but that isn't the analogy that most gives me collywobbles. I'm more concerned with another parallel: that non-renewable resource known as my mind. I suspect it too has bubbles. Certainly it’s faded.

The carpet we can replace...

Friday, 17 February 2017

A new world; the New World

"Stay at the Y," I was told when I reported for work at my new employer in Pittsburgh, late December 1965. Y stood for Young Men's Christian Association.

The USA differed in everything. Britain, now 2500 miles away, had YMCAs but I had no idea what went on inside. Possibly hymn singing and the throwing of medicine balls. In Pittsburgh the Y (see pic) was an inexpensive hotel. But as I walked down the corridor to my surprisingly generous room, old men, clearly retired, languished in the doorways of their rooms. All wore plaid shirts and trousers that started just below their armpits; they watched me speculatively in my three-piece suit, an odd bird.

Later, after a walk, I returned and asked for my key. The receptionist was talking to a visitor about jitneys. The word was new to me and their conversation left me no wiser. What mattered, however, was the visitor's behaviour; regularly he spat decorously into a tin that had contained peanuts. When he left I asked the receptionist if the visitor was ill in some way. Lungs? He laughed and his explanation was impenetrably idiomatic; eventually I worked out the spitting was a sequel to chewing tobacco.

Then it was New Year's Day and the TV in the lounge showed American football, a sport I had never seen. Coverage of the game lasted four hours. Then, quickly, another game began, another four hours. Then another. Dimly I realised the first game had been on the Eastern Seaboard, the second in California, the third in Hawaii. Coverage had followed the availability of daylight.

In my room I opened my portable typewriter and started an airmail to VR, then still in Folkestone, UK, with her parents. I had lots to say.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Boxes ticked and unticked

Most of the things I wanted to do, I did.

Toured much of Britain by bike and by hitch-hiking in my youth. Entered journalism. Moved from Yorkshire to London. Married and the marriage endured. Regularly and intentionally changed jobs in London. Worked in the USA. Got job back in London; acquired a house. Became magazine editor. Became francophile and bought French holiday home. Retired early, financially comfortable. Found the stamina to write novels. Discovered singing. Kept hair.

Things left undone

Rock climbing. Wish I'd been better at it.

University. Might I have profited? Unrealistic, really, like wishing I'd been handsomer. In terms of formal education I was - and am - subnormal.

Would have appreciated a girlfriend while living in Yorkshire. A few months no more, providing social reassurance there was nothing wrong with me. London proved (to me at least) there wasn't but it's as if Yorkshire defeated me.

Finishing The Brothers Karamazov. Four goes, last one foundering on page 360. Yet I've read and re-read Proust and Joyce.

Conversational intolerance. But might a cure cost too much? Might I now be quieter (=moribund)?

Introspection. An ever-present addiction?

Writing verse. Could I improve or would that be (as I fear) self-delusion? 

Friday, 10 February 2017

The Q&A trade

Gummed-up eyelids caused me to misread the bedside clock and I got up an hour early. Not wanting to disturb VR by going back to bed, I took to the downstairs couch and let my mind wander. Thought about interviewing, the basis of my ex-job as a journalist.

I've interviewed hundreds. MDs, engineers, academics, travellers from the top deck of the Clapham omnibus, teachers, men of the cloth, bike racers powered and unpowered, software geeks. Brits, Germans, Americans, the French, Italians, Venezuelans, Antipodeans, Swedes (lots of them), Canucks. In Tokyo I questioned a logistics specialist via a translator, in Geneva - daringly - I interviewed the catering manageress of the World Health Organisation in French.

These weren't adversarial encounters as seen on telly, I was simply after info. Even so, skills are involved. You need to keep your mind open as well as your ears. To compare today’s revelation with a chance remark you overheard six months ago.

Notes are essential. You must keep track of what you're asking so that the answers build up naturally into the article you will eventually write. It's important not to come over as stupid since you'll usually be talking to experts. You have to show you know things, not in depth, shallow will do. I am naturally facetious but I made that work for me. You cannot afford to be shy.

In whodunnits the rule is Cherchez la femme. In my latter-day journalism it was Cherchez l'argent. Cash usually defines success and failure even in activities away from business; many are reticent about this and it's your job to prise them open.

If there’s a rapport it’s exhilarating, a bit like ice-dancing.

Could I do it now, old and enfeebled? I reckon. Wanna try me out?

Monday, 6 February 2017

My crutch

Several Tone Deaf commenters belong to religions and I trust this post isn't seen as antagonistic. It shouldn't be, really. Despite the -ism suffix, my atheism is a nothingness, not to be compared with revealed somethings, never to be preached, merely a practice I've rehearsed in my mind for a decade and which happens to suit me.

As a youth I was uncertain and fearful, needing help I said my prayers. In adolescence the uncertainties grew but for identifiable (ie, sexual) reasons, and the vague entity I'd prayed to seemed irrelevant amidst this feverishness. Much later I needed a mental accommodation that allowed me to listen to and enjoy the Agnus Dei while remaining detached from its implications.

I turned to Occam's Razor - the principle that in explaining a thing no more assumptions should be made than are necessary. In short, go for what's simple.

So: I am able to think and thought can lead to understanding. Increasing my understanding of things seems desirable, since it keeps mystery at bay. Mystery may have its aesthetic attractions but accepting it as a guiding principle doesn't help when there's a need to penetrate political change, to explain why some books are more truthful than others, to compile a theory for friendship, and to arrive at a solution for a defective central heating boiler.

But thought and understanding need to be tested for their validity. The next useful step is to express them as accurately as possible in permanent form. Otherwise writing. I am now in a position to tackle the Agnus Dei which I will, but not now. My priorities say Trump. 

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Oblivion denied

My Worst Journeys. An occasional series

We holidayed in New Zealand three times. Travelling there was hellish although eventually we reduced the torment somewhat by stopping off in Kuala Lumpur at a hotel with a swimming pool. Flight details are blurred since I ceased to be the person I am, became shrunken, reduced from three-dimensions to two - a poppadum dropped briefly into the frying pan, devoid of intellectual resources, desperate, inchoate. A victim of twenty-first century irony whereby modest affluence and advanced technology allowed me to undergo a form of torture previously limited to the rich.

The horrors started before take-off. Then, our carrier, Japanese Air Lines, had seating where the bum-to-kneecap dimension was 29 in. (vs. 32 in. on, say, United). As if my thighs were nailed into a cast-iron coffin. For fourteen hours.

Lunch consisted of dull western-style chicken and sushi. I opted to go native and sushi proved even duller - flavourless stodge. The small screen offered five US movies exquisitely chosen for their banality, laddishness, shouted dialogue and twanging background.

These objective terrors were bad but the subjective ones were worse. I needed an occupation that obliterated time. Of course I had books but books read solely for this purpose change subtly; they realise they are being betrayed and lose their power to distract. Later I acquired an MP3 player but engine noise overpowered the lower frequencies. Mindlessness is the key. Later still I was given a device which played Solitaire and nothing else; perfect, but by then we'd given up on New Zealand.

We are endowed with the ability to think constructively, to reflect, to guess at the future and to dwell on fond memories. Long-distance flight sets these abilities at nought. An arbitrary jail sentence.

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Family of show-offs

Once I left the newspaper I swore I'd had it with covering amateur dramatics, especially rigorously filleted plays which enjoyed Methodist seal of approval. But Zach's appearance in Rumpelstiltskin, a pantomime, demanded my presence.

Zach had two parts. As a bearded gnome, he slipped down his beard to make himself more audible and I could hear his confident young voice ringing out in the choruses. As the King's valet (left on pic) he was on-stage for ages but with little to say; his eyes roved as if he was imagining himself in a more demanding role - Iago, perhaps. Before the panto he'd played a Saturday afternoon soccer game, the following morning he was off to play rugby.

I once wrote a five-act docu-parody which I also directed and narrated. There were never more than three on the stage whereas here there were dozens - appalling logistics, but well managed. Confirmation too of what V said throughout last year: as with singing so with stage speeches, Brits must conquer a national tendency whereby what they utter fades away into nothingness.

Occasional Speeder, Zach's Mum, was Adult 3, a role forced upon her as a result of being Zach's chauffeur. As I earlier found out there's nothing like acting for creating a buzz. We all got home at about 10 pm and went to bed at 2 am. Much Green Room chat, much malicious gossip about those who became excessively "precious" during rehearsals, much giggling at risky improvisations.

I recalled my own acting debut at primary school, aged about 7, reciting The Grizzly-Izzly Bear, for a group of mothers, shabbily dressed, exhausted, able to forget the War for a few minutes. I didn’t forewarn my mother, she didn’t attend and there was a huge hole in my jumper elbow.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Nobody said it'd be easy

As 2017 dawned V said lessons would become more serious. We started with four bars of  Agilita (agility) from Panofka's 24 Vocalises. A vocalise is dully defined as "a singing exercise using individual syllables or vowel sounds to develop flexibility and control of pitch and tone". Another definition includes "other meaningless vocal sounds" as if to emphasise the dullness.

Whereas vocalises are often used by pros, V among them, to warm up before recitals. One, by Rachmaninov, is so beautiful it has entered the international repertory.

Scales with a difference and much harder than they appear on the score.

You want hard? I've got hard. Recently I've been picking apart Mozart's song An Chloë, note by note. Somewhat faster than any of the twenty-plus songs I've previously tackled, also more obviously Mozartean, liberally speckled with curlicues. Here's Rouchswalwe's favourite (see pic), the sadly late

Lucia Popp

chosen because she takes it slightly slower. V has sung An Chloë publicly and Consonants! is pencilled on the score - with good reason. Hard yes, but gorgeous and that helps.

QUITE DIFFERENT Want a terrific wine at £12 (at least from The Wine Society)? Try Ventoux Epicure, Ch. Valcome. Vineyard in the lee of Mont Ventoux, graveyard of some in the Tour de France.

Monday, 23 January 2017

I've been lucky

Lucy on the left, VR on the right, pilot in the centre, me
behind the camera. Just prior to a flight over Brittany, aeons ago  
Lucy's closing down Box Elder. Perhaps for good (bad's more apt), perhaps not. Given I've recently tended to overdo my comments there I've just left one that's uncharacteristically short. It was either that or Swann's Way, majoring on the hawthorn blossoms.

To sum up. Several years ago our mutual friend, Joe Hyam, died and Lucy chose to attend the funeral. She lives in Brittany, the pointy bit of France that sticks out west; the obsequies were in Tunbridge Wells, about thirty miles south of London. Er, that's London, UK.

France's high-speed trains helped and VR and I were able to pick her up for the last leg. What followed was a long day for all of us and as we reached the hotel near midnight Lucy burst into tears of tiredness and emotion. In my gruff, unaccustomed-as-I-am, Northern way I gave her a hug and I must confess it felt like a privilege to be able to do so.

Lucy's admirable. Too understated, no doubt? Then I'm an unfeeling cold fish, a typical Brit.  Lucy encouraged me to blog, commented on my stuff, pointed out the few good things in my fledgling verses, sympathised when I needed it in well-constructed prose that reached into my tripes, could be wicked but was usually understanding, helped reinforce my Francophilia, shared the pleasures of the English language with me. And other big things. A friend.

Funnily enough I don't begrudge her closing down Box Elder. She's earned it. And others' comments, already rolling in, show I'm not alone. I don't think I'm even sad, how could I be with such a credit balance? I do think I've been lucky.

Saturday, 21 January 2017

No talk of walls

Christmas 1971, when I was working in Pittsburgh, my  mother died in Britain. I felt I must attend the funeral even though it meant spending money I'd saved to cover any emergency that might happen to a foreigner (with a wife and two children) working in the USA.

But to leave the USA I needed clearance from the Internal Revenue as proof I'd paid my taxes, and the IR office was closed. Ed, the father of one my daughter's friends, was an attorney; he phoned me, "Call your congressman." I pointed out I was a voteless alien. Ed said, "Call him and tell him I'll call him if he doesn't do something. And if you're short of cash I'll let you have anything you need."

As it happened things went smoothly. I was reminded of this when the new president ended his speech exhorting Americans to think only of themselves.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Lost, and it'll stay lost


...You may see a stranger
Across a crowded room,
And somehow you know...
Etc, etc.


These groaningly familiar lines from Rogers and Hammerstein's South Pacific speak of love-at-first-sight, plot fodder for Hollywood at its squashiest and for Mills & Boon. But not for me. Why?

In all my five novels Jack meets Jill or, rather, Jill meets Jack, but never in that traditional blinding flash.

One reason's obvious. Novels allow you elbow room so why swap growing realisation for Kapow! when you've chapters to fill? Perhaps too, because I've never been convinced... Perhaps... yes, how did things go when I first met VR (then VT) in 1959's endless hot summer in London?

A double date (blind for me): two journalists, two Charing Cross nurses, and an old, old van we'd borrowed. I remember asking VR/VT for her telephone number. Not having pencil and paper I used a penny to scratch the seven figures on the van's battered interior. But that was at the end of proceedings. What happened that evening? I'd no idea.

Timidly, shamefacedly, in 2017, I put that question to my spouse of 57 years. "We went to The Dove at Hammersmith," she said. Strange, a touristy pub on the riverside; a pub I later grew to hate after reading the landlord’s autobiography. "What did we talk about?" I asked; then, in an even more timid voice: "What were your impressions?" VR shrugged: "We drank a lot of beer."

And then, quite forcibly, I knew I'd reached an impasse. Even with long-married couples, especially with them, there are questions which cannot be asked. All I can say is we were married a year later. Thus, for me, the South Pacific assertion remains unanswered.

Monday, 16 January 2017

Lead unkindly light

These are the bad times, the dark times. I rise at 06.25 and there's still an hour of oblivion out of doors. Last night's wine glasses and decanter need putting away and I must use an Eye Wipe to clear up the gruesome results of blepharitis. Curtains are pulled, blinds raised. Sometimes, if there's enough spirit in me I do these tasks without turning on the downstairs light; today, crushed, I flick the switch and endure a shock to the optic nerve.

This is the time of year when nasty arguments occur. There was one last night, my fault. Will the effects have lasted overnight?

I could write a few paras for Opening Bars, my account of the singing lessons, now standing at 25,883 words; almost 1000 words past the original target. I could re-examine my novel, Rictangular Lenses, (28,752 words, untouched since November 23 and there's a shock). I could write a maudlin post. Yes, why don't I write a maudlin post.

At 10.00 there's a singing lesson, a return to the Mozart I sang on the first lesson a year ago. But in detail. "Concentrate on the little problems," said V last week. "Do them several times before singing the whole song." The professional approach, but I'm weak and amateur; I need the reassurance of the song's lovely completeness.

There's a fearful temptation to dwell on past times, when I climbed, cycled, motor-biked, swam, swilled pints of beer and argued, hectored PRs at press conferences. But that's self-destructive nostalgia. Those laddish times are now held in a silo called Raw Material, to be drawn off in spoonfuls and recycled as fiction.

Be positive! Hey, I got up! Stirling Moss still lives! - early reports said he'd died. Music's to come. Maudlin's now a post.

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Make 'em laff. Make 'em...
oh, why bother?

 
Wine suppliers, imagining I drink myself silly every evening,  bombard me with email spam. A headline in my inbox shrieks: "A breathtaking wine!" Well no, I'd rather not. Pickled-onion vinegar's better with chips.
Arf!

Steve Bell, The Guardian's cartoonist, is dismantling our new prime minister. Dressed as Harlequin, her face slathered with white paint and made to look 110, she stumbles down descending stages of madness. Today she asks: "Mirror, mirror, on the wall who is the most socially concerned of all?" Says the mirror, "Larry the Downing Street cat is the most concerned of all."
Arf, arf!

Nor does Labour's Jeremy Corbyn escape. Asked about the big Brexit issue, immigration, he says (to the despair of his supporters): "Labour is not wedded to freedom of movement for EU citizens as a point of principle. But I don't want to be misinterpreted, nor do we rule it out." As Jim Crace, the newspaper's political sketch-writer sardonically observes: "There was little danger of anyone misinterpreting that because to do so would have involved the possibility of someone interpreting it correctly."
Arf, arf, arf!

Donald Trump? Might he be Meryl Streep in drag? The one where she wins all the Oscars. But the screenwriters need to work on that surname (the one beginning with T), it's too obviously risible.
Arf...ooh-er!

Monday, 9 January 2017

Disasters averted

On giving up DIY (Fr. bricolage)

● No more haggled screw-heads.
● No more re-assemblies with two washers and a spline left over.
● No more deviating saw-cuts.
● No more pop-ups starting "Microsoft warns the user..."
● No more U-shaped nails.
● No more suddenly splitting wooden battens.
● No more waiting for repaired plumbing to leak.
● No more gradually widening holes in plasterboard stud walls.
● No more losing the chuck key.
● No more paint blobs on the carpet.
● No more partially erased paint blobs on the carpet.
● No more visits to carpet shops.
● No more visits to the dump with discarded carpet.
● No more lengthy post-mortems about how paint got on to the carpet in the first place.
● No more failures of no-longer-available light bulbs.
● No more holes dug slightly smaller than the sapling's root ball.
● No more accidentally severed hedge-trimmer cables.
● No more futile tours of the wallpaper department.
● No more head down the WC.
● No more danger from the angle grinder.
● No more drilling in the wrong place.
● No more unwonted pride in the unused case of drill bits.
● No more self-disconnecting pairs of wires to the ring-main socket

Progress report: Opening Bars. A late-life adventure. Roderick Robinson. 25,070 words.
Sample extract: It’s a truism but a musical score looks daunting at first sight and becomes more daunting when its purpose is explained. Namely that items of instruction have been gathered into vertical strips representing set periods of time, that each strip must be read as if it contained just one instruction not several, and then – get this! – turned into action with all the items of instruction simultaneously and miraculously combined. Didn’t one US president say another had difficulty chewing gum and walking? How about chewing gum, walking, blowing one’s nose and directing someone to Trafalgar Square in a foreign language?

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Self-searching


It's January 2, 2017. One year - minus two days - after my first singing lesson. Forty-plus lessons ago.

And V says, "We're going back to that first song."

The Mozart! I love all the songs I've learned but that one (Sarastro's "O Isis Und Osiris") I love the most. How many times have I sung it to myself during 2016? A hundred? More?

V plays the sweet-sad opening bars on the piano and I give it the full welly. Taking it down (zu Grabe - To the grave) then up (lasst sie die Prüfung, Früchte sehen - Show them the fruits). Overdoing it but what the Hell?

V nods, meaning I've hit most of the notes. But... "Too dark," V says, "it's someone else's voice."

A recurrent tendency. I'm a baritone and this is a bass aria; I sing it hearing rich noises from Martti Talvela (see pic), Kurt Moll, Kim Borg and Matti Salminen.

"Sing it in your own voice," says V.

It's a struggle, there are mistakes. But V nods, differently. Another of my defects is to talk too much, to try to explain. "I'm committed to this aria. Don't want to let Mozart or Schikaneder (the librettist) down."

V smiles. "There've been things during the year I've let you get away with. Now we're moving on; it's going to get more difficult."

Then she does something quite horrible. Sings "O Isis," deliberately distorting her gorgeous soprano voice into the subterranean grumblings I used first time round. A sort of blasphemy. And a warning.

V says, "The darker version betrayed Mozart more, you sang flatter."

Later my knees start wobbling, sign of an intense lesson. They still wobble in the car. And now, as I write.

PS: In exchange for an incredible encomium from RW (zS) here I am, doing my best with MOZART.