I'm 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.


Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Mike, it was an honour

Mike Raftus, a great friend during my six years in the USA, has died.

I first met him on the magazine I joined in Pittsburgh. A New Englander through and through, he wasn't entirely comfortable in western Pennsylvania. "Pick you up from the Y?" he said, possibly as one alien to another. We listened to jazz at a swish joint in Squirrel Hill and I was mildly shocked that a glass of beer could cost $1.25. At Riggs Lounge on Northside the price was 25 cents. Not that I really minded, I was doing a lot of listening.

He was 6 ft 7 in. tall and his style of speech was laconic. A terse, well-written screenplay, except it was entirely natural. He hated showing surprise. Later, emerging from a bar on Sawmill Run Boulevard he stared across the road at a hideous gin palace with a Wild West frontage. "That looks like the kinda place you could spend a lotta money... on nothing." It was the pause that made it.

His passion was WW2 planes, something I knew about since my father belonged to the Royal Observer Corps in the war. Later I was to be an usher at Mike's wedding in upstate New York. Strictly Catholic; when the others moved towards the rail I was to stay back. The family's ecumenicism pleased me.

He taught me US etiquette. We'd been throwing the football about on Misquamicut Beach in Rhode Island. I indicated my glove and baseball. Mike looked severe. "You don't do that on the beach."

There’s more but now he’s gone I won’t overload him with detail. Written snapshots are better. I felt honoured he’d picked me out and our friendship stuck. For me he opened up the USA as if it were a book.

Saturday, 24 November 2018

This difficult world

ORACLE SPEAKS

How do you solemnise a marriage?
He: What's on telly tonight?
She: Try not to be vulgar, dear. Simply peruse the Radio Times.


Tune a motorbike?
Customer: I bought it to be manly. It sounds like Alka Seltzer.
Mechanic: Larger engine, sir. That will be £3561 plus VAT.

Leave the EU?
Welsh farmer: Can't stand foreigners, boyo. As far away as Basingstoke, look you.
Lib-Dem MP: Add water to this powder, fill a syringe, inject. Then dream.

Hit very high notes (Male singer)?
Vet with pincers: It's a very simple procedure.

Hit very high notes (Female singer)?
Wearied critic: Just screetch, dearie. This is Britain.

Find employment?
Desperate man in three-piece suit: I used to be big in sales admin management.
Man with smartphone: Trawler bound for Libya. Ask for Daesh Recruitment.

Find a book that's not about writers writing about writing?
Stall vendor, outdoor market: Here y'are, mate: Haynes Repair Guide, 1963-74 Ford Zodiac.

Find peace?
Aesthete: I just can't bear it. Any of it.
Financial whizzkid: There's the Thames.

Renew passport?
Panicky voice: Don't try there! Honest! Friend of mine never came out.

Friday, 23 November 2018

Notes on prodigality

Asked in a dream to react journalistically to The Prodigal Son, I awoke reluctantly. Refreshed by sleep I really fancied the job, so here we are. I didn't re-read the parable, I worked from memories dating back to primary school when the war was still on. For simplicity’s sake I call the sons Remain and Brexit.

For Brexit to leave with cash in his pocket the family estate would have had to be liquidated. A nightmare these days since the house would need to be sold. Did Palestinians then own their houses? Dunno. I'm more inclined to think it involved disposing of a flock of sheep and goats.

The division was into halves not thirds which was lousy for the father. In effect, the proposal involved bringing the future back into the present; in the future the father would be dead.

It is either said outright or implied that Brexit "wasted his substance in riotous living". I see wine (and shudder at its probable taste) and I see a red-light district (encore shudder). Would they be enough to ruin him? Ah yes, there's gambling, that would do it.

When Brexit returns, all tuckered out (Did disease play a part?), Remain quite justifiably complains. Dad talks about a son that was once dead and is now alive. Parental forgiveness outweighs legal fiddle-faddle. But did it work out? My worry is that Remain might not even trust his father again, let alone his ne'er-do-well brother.

The lessons are obvious. But here's another. A sub-text suggests Brexit was bored with his agrarian life amd set out to debauch himself. He achieved that but I doubt it was much fun. Debauchery is only enjoyable when it's incidental. And now a never-ending life of toil stretches beyond the horizon.

Thursday, 22 November 2018

Fraternally speaking

Guess who's the brother who does the walking
The doctor's receptionist suggested an appointment date not far ahead; without thinking I reacted aloud: My brother's birthday!

The receptionist's eyebrows rose and I explained. "I need these sort of mnemonics." But it wasn't that at all.

My brother, Sir Hugh, runs a blog mainly about walking as a sport. In my youth I walked a bit, faute de mieux, but then took up golf and ski-ing. Sir Hugh's walks got longer and longer. As physical decreptitude overtook me I adopted less demanding activities but Sir Hugh - no less decrepit in certain functions - continued to walk.

You might have thought I nourish a sort of mutual sympathy for Sir Hugh, given he's my only brother now. If I do it doesn't show. Instead I read his blog and use it as a sedentary man's punch-bag, belabouring him with lengthy comments, usually of a critical and/or hortatory nature. This is slightly strange. Since school teachers did very little for me I'm appalled that in Sir Hugh's case I set up as a teacher.

Sir Hugh is remarkably tolerant. He either rides with the punch or admits to being ignorant about what I am trying to do. He also misunderstands other things I say and has made me realise what a powerful tool misunderstanding can be in dialogues.

Frankly I'm ashamed. I'd promise to reform if I thought I could hack it. Silence seems the only sure option but it is also a nuclear option. Instead I intend to recycle some handwritten notes I recently unearthed – my speech at Sir Hugh’s wedding. Since I was in the USA at the time, the speech was given by our late brother Nick. I’ve often wondered how that panned out.

Meanwhile I’m five words short of my limit.

Tuesday, 20 November 2018

Schrödinger country

They - that ominous, all-knowing group of nobodies - say time passes more quickly in old age. Alarmingly there's confirmation.

In the Guardian's deaths ads I noted a guy I knew distantly. He was big in the National Union of Journalists, of which I was a member, but it was his wife I knew better. She edited a magazine across the corridor and I last saw her on the day the company closed her mag. I found her weeping, not for herself but for her staff. I gave her a hug which was unusual because I wasn't into hugging in those days.

Her husband's funeral was far away and I sent a commiserating letter (Not condolences - a lumbering word I've always hated.) via the funeral home. She responded, incidentally providing some dates I wasn't sure about.

Dates that occurred within my working life. I reflected. I started work on August 20 1951 and finished for good on about the same day in 1995. Forty-four years if I include two years spent serving my sovereign. NB, the latter phrase is ironic.

Much happened during those forty-four years. Rather less happened in the succeeding twenty-three years. Other than my astonishment. I've done nothing significant for a period equal to half my working life. When I fill in the Occupation slot on forms, Retired makes more sense than Former Journalist. I can't say I like "retired" as a profession. To be poetic I'm an ageing surfer riding a diminishing wave that will soon dissipate all its force on the beach. The place where, as Robert Burns said, "the sands of time gang dry".

But, hey, that's for tomorrow and, as those nobodies say, tomorrow never comes. That's Post 919 out of the way.

Journo links for Colette (or any anyone else who's interested)

Journalism 1
Journalism 2
Journalism 3
Journalism 4
Journalism 5
Journalism 6
Journalism 7
Journalism 8
Journalism 9
Journalism 10
Journalism 11

I did two posts on each of the days I wrote Journalism 1 and 8.These confusing and irrelevant "extras" cannot be disentangled from the links. Ignore them. Since I posted this list I have cut some and added others. Ever the editor.

Sunday, 18 November 2018

Goodbye old cold friend

We bought the Zanussi fridge-freezer twenty years ago when we moved in to our present house. VR was allowed a free hand and seemed to have spent a huge chunk of cash. "It's self-defrosting," she explained, and I was to bless her regularly for that.

It still works but bits of plastic (shelves, etc) have broken off and the door seal is disintegrating. VR is convinced it will finally give up the ghost at the most embarrassing time - Christmas Eve, say. Better be safe than sorry.

Choosing the replacement (a Samsung) took ages. Is an open-door alert a deal-breaker? And how about a two-year warranty when most of the competition is offering only one year? (We've dithered so long the warranty has now risen to five years.). Self-defrosting of course.

But VR has assumed the greater burden in planning the gradual evacuation of the freezer compartments. "We can have the leg of lamb on Sunday," she said. I know enough about refrigeration to recognise that LoLs are the most intractable of all food. Luxury items like rib-eye steaks bought cheap, have come and gone. VR's zealous accountancy, pencilled on to plastic sheets kept in the freezer door pockets, ensured there were no "discoveries".

The Samsung spec included an outrageous £35 for installation. For plugging it in??? But only if the door hinges need switching. We both willingly agreed to pay £20 to dispose of the Zanussi. Given the manufacturer’s five-year warranty Curry’s (the supplier) have shown some ingenuity with their insurance plan which includes a yearly clean-up. Even so we didn’t bite.

The Samsung should have arrived yesterday but a timidly voiced girl (Nasty job for no doubt the youngest employee.) offered Wednesday instead. I forgave her.

First feature to be discarded: the laughable wine racks.

Saturday, 17 November 2018

Odd one out

Yesterday I attended a funeral (not my own nor VR's) at St Michael's in Garway. The terrible acoustic was probably due to age: the first stone-built church was established there ca. 1180, a tower was added ca. 1200. Ugly? Functional is kinder.

There were three hymns, none of which - at first glance - I knew. Strange, my hymn repertoire is huge. This aggravated a problem I share with V, my singing teacher. Her gorgeous and powerful soprano voice can be an embarrassment in congregations which don't pull their weight musically. The same to a lesser extent with me. But if I didn't know the tune (the words suggested this might be the case) must I remain mute?

The choir (old but not as old as me) launched into "Be still my soul; the Lord is on thy side" and a memory - decades old - stirred. I'd heard this tune, or part of it, once before. Most hymn tunes are predictable and I was able to guess at the way the lines ended. I even foresaw the point where the music became more obviously major key, the text changing from exposition to triumphalist. I sang louder and with greater certitude. Pleased, I might say, as Punch.

"I heard the voice of Jesus say" was completely new but halfway through the first verse I’d become fully prepared, except for a grace-note line ending that recurred regularly and always caught me out. As to the third hymn, the initial verse of each pair may have been unfamiliar but the four-line refrain I knew well: "How great Thou art" (learned, by the way, at another funeral). No problem.

Does this sound trivial? As an atheist I bring nothing in the way of belief. May purposeful singing compensate?

Thursday, 15 November 2018

Something new

This was the style of sandal but mine were always brown, always on their last legs
My blogging (first in Works Well then in Tone Deaf) started on May 4, 2008: I've done 1463 posts in 3600 days, ignoring leap years and assuming all months have 30 days. One post every 2.46 days.

Sounds reasonable. But not when compared with my lifespan of 30,370 days. One post every 20.76 days.

These figures are of course a nonsense - blogging as such didn't start until 1997. But the figures represent a personal criterion. Surely 30,000-plus days of observation and experience should be enough to ensure I haven't repeated myself in those 1463 posts. Alas, the archives reveal sad truths. All those subjects I've mined and re-mined: gross failures at school, journalism, life in the USA, novel writing. I'm no more original than a clanging bell in an RC church, bidding the faithful to Mass over a century or more.

Question: Is it possible to fashion an entirely new post without cross-referencing any post that went before? Perhaps.

I'm standing in Sherborne Road which feeds the terrace in which I live. My socks are down at my ankles, they have holes at the heel. I wear sandals because they accommodate my growing feet better than shoes. My knitted shirt/pullover has holes at the elbow. I wipe my nose with a hankie that has never been washed and may never be washed. There's a hissing/whirring as an electric vehicle passes on the main road. A thousand miles south men are killing each other in Normandy but I'm unaware of this.

I'm looking for a friend but hear no high-pitched voices. I'm lonely and almost certainly hungry. Thinking about the teacher with dyed blonde hair who lives next door, I experience sensations I cannot give a name to.

I am now very close to my 300-word limit.

Saturday, 10 November 2018

Corny? Perhaps. Enlivening? Certainly!

Last year in Dusseldorf. This year the beer will remain undrunk
We've had to cancel our traditional visit to a German Christmas market. This year it would have been Aachen, followed by a short flip over the border for a couple of nights in Montreuil (France).

Many must wonder what we see in Christmas markets. The stalls sell stuff so why not visit a website and avoid getting cold? Gluhwein (mit Rhum) and potato pancakes are terrific but they may be simulated in the Robinson kitchen.

My reasons will sound grandiose, even sentimental. So be it. My bonds with Germany were born during a fortnight with a family living in the Ruhr valley in 1957. Since then they've grown.

Small moments. In Normandy there's an inconspicuous cemetery for German soldiers killed in the D-day aftermath. Yesterday the BBC's build-up to the November 11 centenary addressed German families: the perfect English of one elderly man broke down in tears. I'm reminded of the EU's primary aim - to discourage war between France and Germany. I sing magnificent songs by German/Germanic composers:

Du holde Kunst, in wieviel grauen Stunden,
Wo mich des Lebens wilder Kreis umstrickt,
Hast du mein Herz zu warmer Lieb' entzunden,
Hast mich in eine beßre Welt entrückt


(You, noble Art, in how many grey hours,
When life's mad tumult wraps around me,
Have you kindled my heart to warm love,
Have you transported me into a better world.)

German Christmas markets attract three generations. The atmosphere is friendly, the spirit optimistic. It's all a bit corny; theoretically I should be above it. Instead I seek to chat in my vestigial German.

Yeah, I'm pissed off not to be there.

Friday, 9 November 2018

Jana is loved - again!

I write novels because of a self-lacerating urge. But the urge dies when I try to flog the end-product. I ask myself who would want to read the scribblings of an unknown stranger?

Luckily my friend and publisher is made of stronger stuff. My work sells (imperceptibly) through Amazon who offer ingenious and cheapish publicity schemes for authors. My friend understands these schemes and we tried one for Opening Bars (a non-fiction account of my singing lessons) but it didn't seem to work. Never defeated, he suggested trying again with Out of Arizona and this is producing results.

Including a four-star review!

My books have been reviewed on Amazon before and I'm grateful for the friends who took time off to say what they did. What makes this review different is that it is not only by a stranger, but a foreign stranger (US since you ask). And it is apparent he finished the novel.

I won’t regurgitate the nice things he said. There are limits... Here’s something else:

At times I found the story a bit slow, and I was disappointed in the editing of it, punctuated minimally, but my heart went out to the heroine...

....adding...

... and I predict yours will, too.

I can afford self-deprecation. For one thing journalism has taught me that over-punctuation is a worse sin than under-doing it. For another, OoA’s Jana is my best realised character ever and I was sorry to let her go. I’m delighted she found another admirer.

Perhaps this was inevitable. His review ends:

If I could have afforded it, I would have (continued to pursue) a pilot's license. It was familiar territory to get back in the cockpit, metaphorically, with this woman...

I’m almost jealous.

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

Music for bad back, hip, thigh, calf

At home, without letting V know, I’ve been teaching myself Purcell’s My Dearest, My Fairest. Difficult doing it alone, it’s a duet.

Meanwhile the sciatica which crippled me for four months in the winter has returned and the acupuncturist’s needles can’t reach it.

At yesterday’s lesson I reveal all and V suggests we try the first few lines of Dearest. I’m sitting because of the pain and V calls out from the keyboard, “It’s harder than anything you’ve done before.” Occasionally I get it right and my voice blends with V’s, more than an octave above. Bloody marvellous.

Looking at the detail is like opening a Swiss watch. As if Purcell were saying: yes it’s hard but I’ve built in assistance. In passage after passage he provides same-note reference points so that singers don’t lose themselves in a welter of minor keys.

I leave feeling euphoric but it’s a special euphoria. Buoyed up by information, not just inner feeling. Seeing the notation in my mind’s eye as I drive. Symbols for which I’ve never received any sustained formal instruction. Too old for that, I haven’t the time.

I join wife VR at the community centre in free exercise for the elderly, run – coincidentally – by the acupuncturist.  The previous week the standing exercises were murder but I’m determined to take advantage of the euphoria. My determination lasts almost to the end when the seated exercises begin and these are less demanding.

I dwell on the way music now affects my life. Think about Purcell, dead at 36;  me singing his masterpieces at 83, over three-hundred years later.

Here’s what the DUET should sound like, allowing for the domestic acoustic

Thursday, 1 November 2018

Aeternum vale

Julie, our cleaning lady, rang to say that dead wasps had accumulated "in hundreds" behind the books we keep in the bathroom for those whose motions (Britain is a country devoted to euphemism) have slowed down with time. I've already mentioned the wasp problem in Late-life Affliction and I sighed. Cleaning ladies are like jewels and Julie's epidermis could not be set at risk.

Steve, Wasp-Killer-General in full regalia
I googled Disinfestation, Hereford, not knowing what it would cost. Under such circumstances it's always "a lot" and so it proved. Also they demanded payment in advance.

Steve practising his deadly craft
I expected the process to be psychologically purging, that I would emerge in some way shriven. This was not the case. The aftermath was messy since I was faced with gathering up the corpses of wasps which had travelled far and wide in the house to do their dying.

For the wasps it was "like the Somme"
In the cardboard box which had served to deliver my coffee pods and which had been turned into a wasp mausoleum I noticed uneasily that some of the yellow/black striped invaders were still showing signs of life. I returned them to nature by dropping them over the garden fence hoping that predators higher up the food chain than wasps would deliver the coup de grace.

At night sleep arrives reluctantly as I try to separate my tinnitus from imagined buzzing.