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, 31 March 2018

Easeful afterlife, anyone?

The poisons from my chesty cough and the ever-increasing power of the drugs I take for sciatica can create a mild delirium  as I begin to wake up from a night's sleep. The delirium consists of insistent abstract images combined with high-pitched sounds cleverly arranged to cause me acute mental discomfort.

One morning, however, I enjoyed a pleasant delirium. I found myself using hands and eyes to explore the contours and the softness of the duvet while composing a verse that sought to describe the delights of this experience. Somehow the single words which constituted the verse attached themselves to the gold-glowing duvet and were intermittently visible as the duvet pulsed like a living thing. Reality seemed to intervene when I was unable to find a new word to succeed the last addition, now forgotten, except that it began with "tin-".

The following day I read that the Pope had said Hell didn't exist.  Which set me thinking, yet again (See my March 28 post, Long, yes, long), about the nature of Heaven. Not, of course, the Pope's Heaven which always resembled a slightly softened version of West Point or Sandhurst. Rather a state of mind, arrived at via drugs or through one of God's ordinances, that promotes incorruptible pleasure which please the lucky dreamer and harm no one.

Like my happy delirium in fact. In prescribing our own Heaven we tend to depend on earthly delights: long untiring walks for Sir Hugh, the disassembly of some inexplicable machine for MikeM, a vintage motorcycle mystically endowed with 2050 reliability for Avus, and a willing literary agent for me. But such wish-lists lack two engaging qualities: surprise and novelty. My delirium had both, was cheaply achieved, and offered a strong dash of surrealism.

A consummation devoutly to be desired.

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Fog clears

I wasn't even sure I'd go to singing. I was still suffering the aftermath of a chesty cough which had cancelled the previous Monday. Coughs don't help singers and I mustn't pass on any lurgi to V.

But 140 weeks of lessons and the urge is still there. Sure I can write about it but I rarely catch the visceral pleasure of belting out German, pitch perfect and steady, for V's attentive ears:

Es schweben Blumen und Englein
Um unsere liebe Frau.

(Flowers and cherubs hover
Around our beloved Lady)

V acknowledges my cough and modifies the warm-up, but soon we're wrestling an old demon. How do you sing the first note of anything? - switching precisely from silence to music? It's called attack and is best understood as decisiveness. V has me doing chopped-off sounds: Ha! Ha! Ha! If I finger my Adam's apple the vibration tells me whether I've got it right.

Suddenly, if briefly, I'm in another world. Not every time but never mind. The source of my singing appears to have shifted. It's no longer at the back of my throat but several inches forward. The tone is wider and clearer; it has lost its artificiality. My front teeth seem to resonate with the passing sound waves.

I practice easier songs at home in this new way. Record them and compare them with earlier versions. Absolute proof! Previously I sounded mannered, even muffled. Might this be a true singer’s voice? Also: this is a more relaxed process. Correction, it must be relaxed.

The only comparison was when I got the breathing right and could finally swim a mile of crawl.

I wish you all such a sudden happiness.

Here's a "new voice" recording of Brahms' WIEGENLIED

Sunday, 25 March 2018

Undiscardable

"It's the element," said P. Davies, when the washing machine refused to wash. P. Davies is a nomadic domestic appliance specialist; in another age he would have been an equally successful tinker. Punctilious to a fault, he left the failed element standing up in the utility room sink.

That was several weeks ago and the element is still there. I should have thrown it away; instead I asked VR why she hadn't done so. She mumbled, deliberately being obscure.

Why the reluctance? Has it become a votive offering? (Wiki: An object displayed, without the intention of recovery or use, for broadly religious purposes.) Perhaps. Or do both of us regard it as a lucky charm? - recalling P. Davies's certain diagnosis, and the surgical precision with which he removed the defective unit. Could be. We're both atheists but we're also superstitious about certain matters. Is there an offhand beauty to the element's curves?

Throwing things away is a minefield of human misbehaviour. Given VR gets through about 220 books a year, it's amazing she discards books without sentiment. Perhaps it's just as well. My problem is IT cables. Every computeresque device I acquire comes with a surplus; they're packed together in a cardboard box which resembles a snake's graveyard. They might come in.

But the element... Hey, just a minute; might the word itself be significant? Elements are the universe's building blocks, not to be sniffed at. Or trifled with. I've just Googled a wonderfully coloured, interactive version of the Periodic Table and I'd hate to offend Dimitri Mendeleev, its original begetter, by treating any element as junk.

Perhaps we'll frame it. But all in good time.

Saturday, 24 March 2018

Long, yes, long

It is not my intention to deride the Revival Movement Association but they made the first move. It was they who dropped a leaflet - Where will you spend eternity? - through my letterbox. I was struck by its tone and the relentless use of capital letters.

First of all, it said, REMEMBER THAT THERE IS AN ETERNITY. That is certain. ... the fact stands.

I agree. I have no wish to quibble about falling short by a few billion years.

In the second place, the RMA continues, REMEMBER YOU MUST SPEND THAT ETERNITY SOMEWHERE.

I'm not so sure. Would a tin of ashes or a few bones disjointed by medical students (I've not made up my mind yet.) be suitable applicants?

OK, cut to the chase. In terms the RMA can understand I can guess my eternal destination ("a place of violence, misery and hate") but I'd like details about the alternative. Granted there will be "holiness, happiness and love" but that's it. I have a gut-feeling there'll be no telly but will there be pens and paper, will meditation be allowed, is there a book list? As Woody Allen said: "Eternity's a very long time, especially at the end." There will be choral singing but after a mere millennium the western canon will be all used up. Would this mean repetition?

I am told we cannot know the mind of God and I'm inclined to agree. Heaven will be a pleasant surprise. Tea and buttered scones overlooking a suburban lawn would be pleasant, but not a surprise. Donald Trump roasting on a spit would be a surprise but not pleasant. RMA offers another leaflet but requires my address. Actually I'm not that curious.

Thursday, 22 March 2018

Unknowing youth

For me adolescence was torture. No other male I know suffered as much; many even enjoyed boasting about it. US rites-of-passage novels likened it to white-water rafting.
      
Adolescence is, I'm told, many things some quite technical. But whatever my serotonin levels, adolescence was sex. Especially the bad side of sex. Was there a good side? I whimpered, hopelessly.
      
Physical lust arrived surprisingly early, before I doffed short pants. But it was undifferentiated, like belly-ache from over-eating. As predictable as Meccano.
      
Eventually lust became something softer and wider. In literary terms Stanley Kowalski morphed into Pierre Bezukhov. I can date this transformation exactly even if I didn't recognise its significance until decades later. Only old age has brought understanding.
      
I was thirteen sitting in the school hall for an evening showing of a docu-feature movie, San Demetrio London. I remember I was uncharacteristically happy: my brothers and I would soon move to Heaton, another Bradford suburb, to live with my mother, now detached from my father.
      
On the row behind me were classmates who coincidentally lived in Heaton. Surprisingly, given the times, they had brought a guest, P., a schoolgirl of the same age. P. kicked my chair. I turned round and she giggled. When I turned away she kicked it again. Giggled in a nice way.
      
Living in Heaton I got to know P. distantly, imagined I was love with her. She was friendly but my timidity ensured nothing happened. The chair-kicking remained vivid but uninterpreted. Now I realise an attractive intelligent girl was prepared to take the initiative with pustule-studded, peeled-shrimp, unconfident me.
      
A perfect specific for adolescence, but alas beyond my comprehension.

Monday, 19 March 2018

Mini-thrills

Not our Skoda (Czech plates are  a give-away) nor
 was the slush so deep. But you get some idea
We're invited to dinner at daughter Occasional Speeder's house deep in the Gloucestershire countryside. We stay the night and awake to a foot of snow on top of our Skoda Octavia. We're welcome to stay but I'm on a pill regime for my blasted sciatica (qv) and I've only brought the absolute minimum.

OS has a 4WD Dacia Duster which she loves. In it we may explore the options and we take the opposite direction because it is, on balance, flatter. OS knows the 3½-mile sub-route well, it's her way to work, but the country roads are narrow and winding, and there's an absolute bastard steep descent to a double-blind cross-roads.

But the news is good. The surface is slush, not deep snow, compacted snow or ice. The only real hazard is the possibility of a car coming in the opposite direction; moving over could involve deep snow. We're lucky and reach the main road without problems. On the return journey OS switches off the 4WD; driving requires more concentration but it's doable.

The Skoda is bigger, less nimble but it has a switchable auto/manual gearbox. I can lock into whatever gear I choose. Second's quite fast enough. I've learned a lot from travelling in the Dacia and VR, beside me, is able to suppress her worries. Way ahead I see a large Mercedes coming towards us; Bless me, he pulls to one side! So out of character.

We're on the main road and say goodbye to OS who's been shepherding us in the Dacia to the rear. One frightening discovery remains. Ridges of slush persist. A more typical Mercedes overtakes us and in cutting back plasters our windscreen. For two seconds we travel blind.

Moral: keep the wipers on

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Mainly a treat

My take on Borderlines Film Festival. VR and grandson Ian would no doubt differ.

Excellent
Magic Flute (Sweden), Smiles of a Summer Night (Sweden). Two unbeatable Ingmar Bergman classics. Flute - an exemplary transformation of opera into film.

Happy End (Germany). Director Michael Haneke, in his pomp, satirises French middle classes against present-day immigrant background in Calais.

Third Murderer (Japan). Police procedural but much more. Why are Japanese movies so absorbing?

Death of Stalin (UK). Shameful bad taste; rollicking hilarity. Simon Russell Beale magisterial as Beria.

Three Billboards, etc (US). Frances McDormand worth three Oscars. Serious but witty; wonderful script.

Milou en Mai (France). Great French director, Louis Malle, turns family squabble into magnificent pastoral comedy.

Lady Bird (US). Wagging finger for all parents. Daughter and mother from hell, but a familiar suburban hell.

Very Good
Loveless (Russia). Another, darker, despairing tutorial for parents, with matching background.

Sweet Country (Australia). Antipodean western energetically examines colonial racism. Vividly realised characters

The Gulls (Russia). Culture clash in Buddhist (!) Russia. Poignant, noirish

Man called Ove (Sweden). Feelgood but funny; about old age. Monumental central character, Rolf Lassgard.

Good
Shape of Water (US). Marine version of beauty and the beast. Predictable events.

Loving Vincent (Poland). Slender story cartoon about Van Gogh; done in his painting style

Phantom Thread (UK). Haute couture detail good; characters frequently irritating.

Average
Mountain (US). Docu-spectacle for sports nuts.

Ghost Stories (UK). Horror tale, nominally about supernatural. Not my bag, I fear

Dark River (UK). Cold Comfort Farm updated; unbearably grim; set in Yorkshire.

Awful
The Party (UK). Hysterical, claustrophobic farce strains at the leash.

The Bookshop (UK). Dull, cliché-ridden, in peculiarly English way. Sentimentality that puts you off reading.

Good?/Obscure
Free and Easy (Russia).  Unexpected laughs in unremitting dystopia.

Persona (Sweden). Experimental Ingmar Bergman. Too gnomic for me.

Saturday, 10 March 2018

The Grip

I'm now far too old for London but that doesn't stop me reflecting on its embrace. For over thirty years I lived in and around the capital, seeing it mostly as a privilege.

Of course it was love/hate but even the hatred had a sense of uniqueness.  Crowds forcing themselves into trains had an uncaring vigour, unduplicated elsewhere; a vigour that transfused me. The events I was unable to book (because smart-asses knew ways and means of getting in first) reminded me of London's elitism. And the nightmare of finding a flat was proof that others were maddened by the city's unholy appeal.

When I needed to resolve things between Clare and Hatch in Gorgon Times I had them walk from Blackfriars Bridge along the river to Chelsea; I saw them vividly every step they took. And to their left the heaving, black, amphibious monster that is the Thames. That gluey flow that bars the north from the south and forces you to look at it - whoever you are - and contemplate time's threat. The river has been there and seen everything.

Several years were spent in Clerkenwell where narrow winding streets evoked the clattering metal wheel-rims of horse-drawn vehicles, assuming you allowed yourself a little imagination. And how could you not? On the skyline the dome of St Pauls cathedral, and closer at hand, in Farringdon Road, a building emblazoned in red with THE DAILY WORKER, a daily newspaper for communists. God and Mammon in co-existence.

Walk west to the tourists - bemused by history adjacent to history. Up front the National Gallery, yes, but what about that building to the right? Big and important? A slight disappointment to discover it was the South African embassy.

London, full of disappointment yet full of power.

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Progress

V sends me an email that her house is accessible but I leave too early to read it. The final approach is steep and snow-scattered, followed by a blind right-angle bend. Fine. And there she is, gum-booted, scraping a path through the snow. I wind down the car window to shout, "I would not have you do this." and she laughs. But the scene is incongruous, she's been put on earth to sing and to teach others, not to clear paths. Unless today's a day for metaphor.

Hard pain dictates I must - yet again - sit down in front of a lowered music stand. I note a new score of Silent Witness ("Did you not see my lady...?") on the piano. Is it for me? No, for a new student with a great, though untrained natural voice who wants to sing a Justin Bieber song to his bride at their wedding two years' hence. Music and what it may do! I shall never meet him but I feel I understand him. Just sing confidently, young chap, as if you mean it. Sing right through the errors.

Today's about breathing. The second half of Purcell's An Evening Hymn consists of one word, Hallelujah, sung fourteen times, extended in all sorts of ingenious ways. Listen to Emma Kirkby.

Now me:

Hal - le - lu - jah (Breathe!), Hal - le - lu - u - u - jah (Breathe!), Hal - al - al (Breathe!) - al - le-lu - u - ja. (Breathe!) Hal - al - al - al - al (Breathe!) - al - al - al le-lu - u - jah (Breathe!) ...

The bold-face is V breaking off from singing and shouting out my instruction. I progress.

I wish everyone sang.

Saturday, 3 March 2018

Write of passage

For years my blog comments and profile have been decorated by a thumbnail of Blake's water-colour of Nebuchadnezzar. Proclaiming that I'm old and unbecoming, you see. Except the detail was so tiny I doubt anyone would have recognised the connection. Or cared.

I chose Old Neb because old age absolved me of any suggestion of boasting - a very English concept, that. Brits do boast but only sneakily: "Ah, you were educated at Harvard! I fear I'm nothing but an auto-didact." One reason why Brits are disliked the world over. Especially by Australians.

Occasionally - very occasionally - I'm visited by moments of clarity. I am old, it's true, but I'm other things too. Surely it was time to retire Old Neb. But God forbid I replace him with some image which suggested I'm handsome, clever, well-regarded, charitable, patient or kind-hearted because that would be un-English. Something neutral then.

The Underwood typewriter symbolically marks the moment when I ceased to be schoolboy (occasionally flogged for bad handwriting) and joined a trade where what I wrote had to be legible. I wish I'd had time to learn touch-typing but speedy writing was another necessity and I simply banged away with a varying number of fingers. Later I was to acquire my own portable (a Remington Rand) which lasted until the invention of the word processor, but I always had a soft-spot for the Underwood, one of several battered machines in the Telegraph & Argus reporters' room.

It had a unique springy action which was gentle on my fingers. Also an upper-frequency chatter, certainly soprano perhaps even treble.

It also whispered to me: "You've grown up."

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Cui bono?

Old age has encouraged me to tip more heavily.Why? Because I can afford it and those who serve me are struggling to work in an uncertain environment which seems ever more uncertain. Things were more stable when I worked.

This is not a policy shared by other Herefordians (often retired pensioners from wealthier parts of the UK, like me) who instinctively reach for their purse rather than their wallet at the end of a service. Even if I hadn't observed their furtive parsimony I would have noticed it in those I tip. My hairdresser charges a piddly £6.50 for my increasingly infrequent visits; I give her a tenner and tell her to keep the rest. "Are you sure?" she asks, clearly astonished.

Yesterday we ate Norwegian Red (a first for all of us) at a swanky new fish restaurant by the Severn where the service was efficient, friendly, even witty. The bill for three included a truly superb pinot grigio and was £103. I added £15 to the credit-card total, after first ensuring that the extra would go to those who'd earned it. "That's very generous," said our waitress.

There is no tradition at all for tipping in Edwards Plaice (qv), a fish-and-chip shop with three tables, where the portions are monstrous and the bills minimal. As we leave I hand over a very unexpected fiver; the staff behind the counter blow kisses and those queueing for takeaways look uneasy.

To tip is, by definition, patronising but I don't care. Money is money and how I appear doesn't matter. Besides which, the reactions seem unfeigned and that pleases me.

Note. US readers who must regularly stump up 20% for services will no doubt be unimpressed by this post. So be it.