I am moved by Lady Percy. CLICK HERE - see if you agree.
Otherwise my novels, short stories, verse, family, music, memories,
vulgar interests, detestations, responses, apologies, and - more
recently - learning to sing. I hold posts to 300 words* finding
less is better than more. I re-comment on comments and
re-re-re-comment on re-re-comments.
* One exception: short stories.


Saturday, 24 February 2018

In short supply

I've tackled happiness before. At best it's of very short duration, more often self-delusional. Getting into a warm bath, for instance, may require one first to be tired, cold, and/or injured; the result is not true happiness but merely the status quo renewed.

True happiness must be more than mere relief; it must involve the intellect as well as the senses. I have cited arriving in New York knowing there was work waiting for me in Pittsburgh; this after a campaign that had absorbed me for over a year, and an urge that had been latent since childhood. But was it true happiness, given I'd planned for it? Wasn't it simply success? Might true happiness be unexpected in order to grab at the emotions as well?

Progress in singing invaded my thoughts, my emotions and my physical self. It was acutely personal and, given my age, unexpected. Happiness? There is no other word. But I may have flogged it to death in Tone Deaf.

As an adolescent male I felt unloved in Bradford my birth city. A walk with VR through autumnal mists towards Amersham in Buckinghamshire laid those ghosts to rest. Brought the misery to an end. Happiness with a sense of fruition - all the more poignant since, in the tiniest sense, it felt undeserved.

Might my long life have, on balance, been happy?  The idea is untenable because of smugness. Plus banality, for who would want to admit to an unhappy life?

I conclude that true happiness, meeting all the above criteria, is rare and may never happen. But the human spark says that it may and this is enough. One rule of thumb is surely it must not be actively sought.

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Analysis

 
Although I enjoyed my 44 years as a journalist (bar two years of disloyal service) I was in the wrong job. I cared more about writing style than news.

Fiction is my raison d’etre but without precluding blogposts and progressively longer blogcomments. In everything I write I strive to be original or to package necessary banalities in an original way. The desire to write is never absent, even in oral conversation; my spoken sentences may be structured and over-elaborate and, to the annoyance of those listening, I often break off to issue an improved version.

Being original isn't necessarily an asset. An "original" note to someone bereaved may lack sympathy. Even worse, the seeming lack of sympathy may be intentional, trying to say something different.

In the Tesco café this morning I listened to a two-year-old girl shouting loudly. Surprised by the depth and richness of her voice; it sounded almost trained. A paradox to be included in some fictional passage as yet unconceived. Or perhaps not.

When I say I must write and that I relish this impulse, I mean I love the progress of writing. Being able to see the next ten words clearly, and to envisage - more vaguely - the shape of the sentence that follows. To live simultaneously in the present and the future.

When the piece is finished I return to the start relishing the conviction that stuff must be cut, rendering what remains as more efficient. Sometimes whole sentences. Does this mean I write inefficiently? Perhaps. But not if the stuff removed may be regarded as scaffolding, holding things together during assembly, then discarded.

Writing stays me in old age, unlike skiing and distance swimming. Dying will have started when I can no longer write – a health barometer and a compass.

Sunday, 18 February 2018

Sciatica - why?

Were I a Christian I might, if I belonged to one of the grimmer, more northerly sects, regard my sciatica as God's punishment. For what reason? "Search in your heart," some cadaverous pastor would tell me, "and ye will find the reason." No doubt I would; I don't lack imagination.

If the sect was less adamantine, more Home Counties, I'd accept the rationale that sciatica was proof God was working out his unknowable purpose. And leave it at that.

But as an atheist? Well, there are perhaps two options. The non-deterministic view would be that bad posture had led to a pinched sciatic nerve of which sciatica was a symptom; that I should put my physiological faith in drugs, osteopathy and stoicism. And reading well-plotted and tautly written thrillers.

A determinist view (there are several) might be that sciatica, in a wholly connected, entirely logical world, was the latest phase of my education. Viewed coolly it had arrived for the reasons given above but it was an encouragement to deconstruct my bad posture and bring about physical tranquillity through the application of pure reason.

A parenthetical point: atheism is simply a refusal to accept the supernatural. It cannot be preached, must not claim superiority and involves at least one logical flaw which the atheist swallows without protest.

Dennis Potter, an atheist (I’m fairly sure) playwright, dying from cancer, admitted he called the tumour Rupert - his left-handed tribute to the media baron Rupert Murdoch. Was anthropomorphising that unnatural growth a romantic (ie, non-logical) gesture? If not may I then christen my sciatica? There are several monstrously tempting names but I'm ignoring them and calling it Dan, author of the worst novel I've ever read (which wasn't, BTW, The Da Vinci Code).

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Twinges


Three connected sonnets on the
Egocsue answer to sciatica

(See the pic)

With pain like this who needs an enemy?
Pain that rejects all thought, all sleep, all time,
A mindless spite of masculinity.
To hang this tyrant male would be no crime

I knew his cracking rack ten years ago
And now he’s back with more unwonted powers
His brand burns deep and leaves a poignant glow,
The futile ashes of my sterile hours.

If I’m to function in this half-lit life,
To make a fist of doing what I ought
I need to force him into open strife
Then feed him on his testes ripped apart

‘Twil be a slangy, coarse, ignoble war,
With many an f and c to salt the gore.
-------
I lie flat-floored, my hips the angled shield
Above an arch defined by upright thighs
And horizontal calves. A battlefield
Where pain will duke it out with mass surprise.

Where I’m observer, referee, and prize,
The rules, the judge and keeper of the scores,
The fan who shouts that pain’s a bunch of lies,
Doubting echoes of all that that implores.

I pause and find my torments equalised
About my torso and my lower limbs
He feints towards to my calf, a scorching scythe
But borrows pain from all his former sins.

I wait, time passes and the calf retires,
A chance to bank up my offensive fires
------
Balloons of lesser pain attempt to scour
My nerves. Yet from another viewing point
I feel him flinch, retrench, advance once more,
His spite less sharp, his assets almost spent.

Time slows, my senses numb, an ebbing tide
Of erstwhile misery slides back in space,
And groans become the sweeter sound of life,
Has optimism left its hiding place?

Is pain a useful raw material?
A tool? A clamp to hold the narrative?
The stuff of verse to make a villanelle?
The simple heart of an indicative?

Is pain love’s other, darker kith and kin,
Part proof that we’re alive, and feel, and sin?

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Bars now downloadable

Uh, huh: gotta straighten this out right away.

Hustle (primary meaning:  to push or convey; secondary meaning: to swindle or cheat). You do understand it's the former sense, don't you? To push as in "present for sale".

Opening Bars is now available, greatly reduced, as a Kindle download. Pat (he's a fella and a friend) who runs The Racing House Press which published Gorgon Times and Out of Arizona, fixed it yesterday and let me know. He'd chosen the price; was it OK?

I said, "Yes. I'd rather be read than make money." So I'm hustling but in a downbeat, half-ashamed, British sort of way.

Click one of the two options in the sidebar depending on where you live.

And now I'll shuffle off and nurse my sciatica which, if anything, is worse this AM.

Saturday, 10 February 2018

Lost 3

Swimming is the perfect exercise for my aged, whalelike body. For several years I swam a mile twice a week. Much against my will, I had to stop.

A mile is 80-plus lengths of a large pool in about 52 minutes. You're looking for efficiency and that means crawl, breast-stroke is a non-starter. With proper crawl the head is underwater for 95% of the time and this means learning to breathe in an entirely different way. Taking in sufficient air in a quick twist of the head lasting no more than 2 seconds; breathing out into the water.

The problem is psychological; fighting the mind's belief that such breathing cannot be sustained. When I first completed an all-crawl half-mile the endorphins surged through my body in a fine fizz.

Although the municipal pool had a section for length swimmers, most were there for social reasons; it was too crowded. A local hotel had a pool but it was irregularly shaped and intermittently crowded. I joined a proper leisure centre with two large adult pools and a smaller one for children. Most swimmers were there to do lengths. Just one problem: there were no straight lines on the pool-bottom to keep crawl-swimmers on track.

For two years I did my careful lengths but then a disabled woman swam into me. That was traumatic. The possibility of another such crash - especially involving a woman - weighed heavily and I gave up my membership.

Alone, off Karpathos in the Dodecanese, I used to swim a mile to a small beach, then back again after a short rest. But that was just two weeks of the year. I dreamed of winning the lottery and buying a house with a pool. I no longer swim.

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Gain!

During weeks of endless pain (Thank-you sciatic nerve, you absolute bastard) I have my best singing lesson ever.

I endure the unsleep of the damned, walk like Neanderthal man, must sit (!) at a lowered music stand, yet am exalted. Limited to my voice, the score, V at the piano (newly tuned) singing her head off, remembering recorded performances, I sing and recognise faintly I've moved on, perhaps up.

Yet anyone listening would have heard only the mistakes.

The song is Evening Hymn, written 350 years ago by Henry Purcell. It sounds like THIS.

So lingering, so moving, so deceptively simple - at least until the Hallelujahs. But it’s a maze of sharps and flats, of minims followed by dotted minims (for this journey you need lots of breath) and subtleties from no more than three notes. "It's a singer's song," says V. Yeah.

Previously I'd never got past the first page of four though I've listened to it innumerably on YouTube, following the score.

I'd missed my previous lesson, grieving for Nick. The pain was varying, ingenious and malevolent. V said we'd do the whole thing so I could grasp at the shape. I missed entrances, sang flat, chopped off sustained notes, got briefly lost. But...

... there were notes I remembered exactly and reproduced, sequences I could predict and sing full-throatedly. I was alert and sentient in a recognisable structure, swelling on words that needed swelling. Next time I’d halve the boo-boos.

Finished, I decided: no next time. Not that day anyway. Next week. I said, “Let’s sing something I know well.” V nodded. We did Waly, Waly.

But Evening Hymn remains, imperfectly dealt with but a musical achievement nevertheless, my gain. I might after all become a singer.

Sunday, 4 February 2018

Loss 2

Rock-climbing is prone to cliché so let's be original.

Rock-climbing explores texture as does kissing another's lips. Both stimulate, are life-affirming, pleasurable and voluntary human expressions. One looks for reassurance, the other might. Dispute this and I'd say you lack imagination.

OK, I'm done with the analogy and into facts. Rock-climbers continuously search for the reassurance provided by good holds. Holds vary in goodness. The best (and rarest) are securely attached flakes of rock which allow 300 deg. of grip, almost like rock rails. The next best are small horizontal steps which incorporate a right-angle, thus 90 deg. of grip. There are other shapes which offer less and less grip, best suited to simian experts.

For me the essence of rock-climbing resides in shallow scoops on rock devoid of cracks, ridges and other grabbable features. Their use demands faith. A scoop, as handhold, offers no mechanical engagement for the fingers only friction; when such a handhold becomes a foothold the uncertainty increases since boots reduce the climber's sensitivity. Friction works but only up to a point; a severely inclined scoop offers little friction. Yet others will have successfully climbed this route and made this judgment. Certainty melts into faith.

"Exposure" describes a growing unwillingness, due to increasing height, to perform manoeuvres which are unexceptional a few feet above the ground.  "Perceptions of height" is more exact. In a rock chimney one may be unaware of the drop; out on a bare face it may be only too evident. Climbers flirt with exposure as in an off-and-on affair. A rocky romance you might say.

I gave up rock-climbing when I moved and lost immediate access to rocks. Also I’d got older. I was simultaneously relieved and miserable. Being a human being is neither easy nor logical.

Thursday, 1 February 2018

Loss 1

Not me. Knees bent, shoulders facing
down the slope, the pleasure self-evident
You lean forward however steep the slope, otherwise the curved edges of your skis won't bite into the snow and turn. Turning is at the heart of skiing, the mechanism which tames steepness, imposes control and brings about dynamic beauty. You're on the slope specifically to turn - left, right, left, in a sequence of esses - because it's only incidental that you reach the bottom. What counts is style.

As a beginner your turns are more complex but safer. Also uglier. You tire quickly. You yearn to be effortless.

It's astonishing how little you do to turn properly. You straighten up ever so slightly from bent knees and simultaneously push gently with your knees; the shape of your skis does the rest. The pleasure is sensual or possibly sensuous, enhanced by the sound your skis make: hissing if you've done well, scratching if you haven't.

As you turn you "walk" your poles rhythmically on either side of the curve you are making/following. Beginners have problems with poles because they appear to contribute nothing physical. True, pole movements simply co-ordinate your turns as a metronome times the music you create. Nevertheless precise pole movements add to the beauty of skiing.

The skier who's turning correctly turns his shoulders to face down the slope. This shoulder movement is non-intuitive since the body wants them to face up the slope. You know when you've got it right because everything else is slightly easier to perform.

I skied for about twenty-five years, always improving during the latter years. Then nothing, without warning. It was like losing - let's say - my nose. I am different, reduced psychologically, incomplete.