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.


Friday, 28 December 2018

Post-Christmas lull

Easy on the toes
 
Musta costa fotune
The tide of guests flows and ebbs. Last night we were eight, tonight we are three. Last night we engaged in noisy, incompetent charades, tonight we'll probably read in silence broken only by the sound of sipping. Last night Beef Wellington, tonight spag. bol. albeit enlivened by a pinch of chili.

VR looks up from her smartphone and tells me Russian TV has sent Salisbury a chocolate model of the city's cathedral.

As a goodwill gesture!

Salisbury!

Where  KGB agents, recorded almost continuously on CCTV cameras, and subsequently identified by their fake and real names, strolled from the railway station and sought to poison two Russian natives. They failed. However their discarded poison (in a perfume aerosol) was picked up by a woman and it did for her.

More like: Yah-boo, catch us if you can.

The leg throbs and I shall shortly take a hot bath which won't do any good at all. But it will be a pleasure working the new lever taps with my toes. A step towards paradise on earth.

Far too much of The Observer’s full-colour supplement is devoted to fashion which is of no interest to me. However, flicking through the pages  some weeks ago I paused. Said to VR, “Just for once, something that appeals – a Paul Smith scarf.”  Guess what I got for Christmas. It’s gorgeous except for the fact I’ve forgotten the price, only that it was monstrous.

Blabbermouth guilt.

Friday, 21 December 2018

Let good prevail (much revised)

SECOND THOUGHTS
Christmas approaches. Reminding me of Christmases that entailed disaster, even tragedy. Raw material for novels and short stories but I've bundled all that (The Overturned Van. Pulmonary Affliction. Mother's Death. Cold Duck Hangover.) together, secured with Sellotape (US: Scotch tape), for storage in the loft.

Met Professional Bleeder at Hereford bus station yesterday, took her home to change, and we set out with VR for the tiny Gloucestershire hamlet of Brand Green to spend the night with Occasional Speeder, her husband Darren and son Zach. A pre-Christmas blast.

Their hugely decorated tree touched the ceiling, a furnace of light and a temptation to the new kitten who would have stripped it bare within minutes had we let her. A firkin (= quarter of a barrel) of ale was available, the others drank champagne. I stretched out my tortured right leg and gave in to raucous gossip. At some indeterminate time a hot-as-Hades tagine was served.

It wasn't the whole family: grandson Ian was with his Dad, granddaughter Bella in her new Tavistock house with partner, Daniel. But it was enough. Under these circumstances, conversation is a majestic boulder released down a mountain slope of infinite length. It may reach a small plateau and slow down; but it never stops. Impatience writ large on the faces of those waiting to break in.

 Denied the tree the kitten gnawed the feet of those likely to say Ouch!

Now we are back home, wrapping table presents to the assertive trumpets in Bach’s Christmas Oratorio. Messiah is kept in reserve for Christmas Eve. It’s the family that counts, of course. The boulder endowed with energy, source of uncaring laughter and often of revelation.

Disc 1 of the oratorio is finished. Those toiling with Sellotape need the impetus of Disc 2.

Sunday, 16 December 2018

Small aside re. Joe

Joe, formerly Plutarch,
tie askew, looking BS
straight in the eye
Four years ago my pal, Joe Hyam, died. He and I were both magazine editors in and around London and I'd known him since 1963; others will remember his blog, Now's the Time. His initial blogonym, Plutarch, was later dropped in favour of his real name.

But why Plutarch in the first place? I’m mildly ashamed I never asked. So, seeing a dilapidated paperback of Plutarch’s Lives on the charity books table at Tesco, I decided to check. Published nearly sixty years ago. the pages have lapsed into that familiar orangy-brown, some fragile as ash. I have many books in that state. It’s a way of re-visiting my youth.

Plutarch was born a Theban in AD mid-forties and lived until he was seventy-five. Studied philosophy in Athens, travelled, held various magistracies, and wrote only about “men of action”. This version (there are others) of  Lives covers movers and shakers in a crucial period in Greek history “from the legendary times of Theseus to the end of the Peloponnesian War.” All news to me. I was not classically educated, not educated at all, really.

Theseus (Founder of Athens) was certainly an action-man. Periphetes, aka Club Bearer, was an early casualty, encouraging Theseus to adopt the club himself. He may have clubbed “Phaea... a robber, a murderous and depraved woman... whom Theseus afterwards killed.”

But now it’s confession time. I’m still on Theseus with eight more lives to go. But I may have answered my own question. Joe liked Plutarch’s essentially in-yer-face attitude:

...geographers when they come to deal with those parts of the earth which they know nothing about, crowd them into the margins of their maps with... “beyond this lie sandy, waterless deserts full of wild beasts” or “trackless swamps...

Plutarch and Joe, neither a purveyor of traditional BS.

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Dining in tandem

Jokily I ended my previous post (Ping-pong for one) like this:

But I had a conviction - possibly delusional - that if I thought hard enough I could communicate with VR. Wordlessly.

Colette ended her comment to this post:

And if you are able to communicate wordlessly with VR, please let us know.

I responded:

Should telepathy occur you'll be the first to know.

Last night VR, who has been following these exchanges with mild amusement, reminded me such telepathy has already happened.

Thirty years ago I was invited by the London magazine, Theatregoer, to become its restaurant critic - an evening  job that didn’t interfere with my daytime editorship of a logistics magazine. Sounds like a dream commission doesn't it? It wasn't.

Go out for a normal meal and you spend the evening eating, drinking, observing and chatting. As a restaurant critic you have to fit in the surreptitious taking of copious notes, correctly spelled. Harassment descends and enjoyment is eroded. And there's a further distraction.

VR accompanied me to help cover up my suspicious note-taking. Also to test more choices of what was on offer at the restaurant. Very quickly I learnt to choose two quite separate meals and be prepared to ditch the one I really preferred. Quite uncannily VR always chose the same (as yet unannounced) meal I had in mind, forcing me to switch from, say, Escalope de veau à la Zagreb (see pic) to Filet de sole bonne femme. With subsequent adjustment to the choice of wine.

Does this qualify as telepathy? In fact this tendency still continues when we eat out normally. Although by now we acknowledge it laughingly.

OK, Colette?

Monday, 10 December 2018

Ping-pong for one

In our substitute German Christmas Market visit we switched from our home (see First steps?) to Occasional Speeder's. Watched grandson Zach do snowplough turns on Gloucester’s ski-slope in preparation for his school ski-ing trip to Canada next year. He is ape at all sport and made good progress.

We also visited Webb’s famously upmarket garden centre at Wymondham where I succumbed to my recurring ailment - legs simply not working, groans pitiful. OS guided me to a seat in the café and bought fizzy water to aid my pill-swallowing. When I opened the bottle super-active fizz spilled water all over my trousers. Surprisingly I didn't groan. Instead, played Solitaire on my smartphone until the hurt subsided.

An elderly couple joined me at the table and it was clear the man wanted to talk to his spouse. She neither wanted to talk, nor to respond. He launched a chain of non-sequiturs, possibly fragments left over from other aborted conversations. Stolidly she poured tea and sipped, staring into the middle distance.

Sitting allowed my mind to roam. I couldn’t make head nor tail of the man’s utterances other than they seemed domestic. But the gap between husband and wife spoke volumes. How long had her silence endured?

Lacking pain I was able to consider my own good luck. VR and I still talk to each other. Avidly. After more than half a century. Conversation dispenses with the need for lovey-dovey professions - the mere exchange of thoughts is sufficient proof of mutual interest. I was alone in the café while OS and VR shopped for table presents. But I had a conviction - possibly delusional - that if I thought hard enough I could communicate with VR. Wordlessly.

Abruptly the couple got up and left. In silence.

Thursday, 6 December 2018

First steps?

A strange evening.

This is the week we should have attended the Christmas market in Aachen. Instead Occasional Speeder is spending a few nights with us to push out the boat in local watering holes. Back at home more indulgence.

West Midland News was lurching to its feeble end when it was replaced by songs from the Simon and Garfunkel Central Park concert. OS had linked the TV to her Iphone and it was music I'm very familiar with. I sang along as best I could, amazed at S&G's pell-mell speed.

One thing led to another. I sang a couple of my warm-up songs to illustrate some musical point or other and OS seemed amazed. I explained that these warm-ups were merely preludes to more serious songs like Mozart's O Isis und Osiris. Which I also sang. OS was even more amazed. How long had I been learning, etc?

OS played an Adele song, saying longingly she wanted to be able to sing it. I listened to Adele and said fine but first OS would have to learn a form of recitative singing (In German, Sprechstimme - speak voice) and widen her range. OS doubted her ability. I said pick a carol; we sang In The Deep Midwinter together. I then deconstructed OS's singing, getting her to lengthen her vowels ("...frosty winds made m-o-o-an") and make her consonants cleaner. Then we sang an ascending sequence of scales.

I listened to Adele again and imitated the first line slowly. Got OS to imitate me. Told her she had the basis of a singing voice.

It was 01.50 am, time for bed.

There we left it.

Tuesday, 4 December 2018

Peas in a pod

Some posts lack universal appeal, as today (No. 956). The audience will be limited, though no one is actively discouraged.

Inevitably it’s about singing.

Most people sing, or at least make musical noises. La-las, whistling, humming, one repeated line from some dim song. Not me. I find myself murmuring stuff  I've been taught. If from a recent lesson I may envisage the score and follow it in my mind's eye. Such swank! Non-singers will see this as stultifying, more like self-discipline than music-making.

They may have a point.

But that's only the start. Recognising I'm sub-consciously doing, say, Schumann, I stop. Take a deepish breath, consider the opening notes, remind myself of their difficulty (all openings are difficult), call up my proper singing voice from a point north of my bladder, re-start. Seriously.

I make an error. I stop, find the solution, re-start. Spontaneity is lost.

But what is gained? A sense of wholeness between my body (The parts that create sound; hands that sketch phrases; a bridge between consciousness and heartbeat which perceives rhythm) and my mind (Exhilaration at being a source of these sounds; relish at words now enhanced; critical awareness of technical matters).

Trained athletes must experience something similar. There must be parallels between preparing for - and putting - the shot and singing An die Musik – each for the thousandth time. Channelled wilfulness leading to  a conviction: he/she is now a shot-putter, I am now a singer. Immediacy counts. Otherwise the shot-putter goes back to a desk  in an insurance company and I to the unspecifics of retirement. Immigrants from another, demanding world.

Taking singing lessons without a final aim is self-regarding and futile. But I am those things anyway. To me singing is a willing companion and who’d reject that?

Sunday, 2 December 2018

Regrets? I've had a few

This is all rather vague and, in retrospect, poignant.

Herman Bruce (formerly Helmut Bruch) joined my primary school - see pic - during the war. I remember him crying to the teacher: "X (another boy) said I was a German spy." I was slightly shocked but did nothing.

We became "school friends". Why? There was some connection between our fathers. Herman's was a confident, jolly taxi-driver with a very strong foreign accent. Before my father could acquire a car, he took the bus to work (Impossible to imagine!) and he must also have used taxis. Occasionally my father spoke to my mother about Herman's father but I cannot remember any content.

Herman, himself, had no accent though his English and his attitudes were somewhat formal. Since I liked to use big words he may have seen that as an attraction. As a scholastic dumbo I left primary school to become a fee-payer at the grammar school. Herman expected to get a scholarship to the grammar school (by then he was confident and super-articulate) and told my mother he was disappointed when he didn't. He did, however, find a place in Bradford's second-best school where my father had been educated.

Herman, I and a closer friend went on a hitch-hiking holiday to London staying at YHA hostels. One evening my friend and I submerged Herman’s spoon in his soup and watched his fruitless search and subsequent outrage. By now his superiority was beginning to irritate me and I dropped him. I think he went on to uni.

I've dropped quite a few acquaintances and never regretted the decision. But being able to piece together what I suspect is Herman's no-doubt horrific life story and remarkable emergence I feel I should have done better. This post is poor compensation.

Saturday, 1 December 2018

A damned nice thing*

I garage my car at night. Most neighbours with garages don't. Some for good reason (too many cars), some inexplicably (garage given over to grass mower, discarded furniture, things in cardboard boxes).

I do so to hide the car from thieves and/or vandals, because I hate scritching away frost, because low temperatures reduce battery efficiency, because the house (which cost rather more than the car) looks prettier minus the car. Also the car insurance company prefers things this way.

But garaging can jangle the nerves. The car measures 2.017 m between side mirror extremities while the garage door is 2.130 m wide. That 0.113 m difference (roughly 5¼ in.) may sound like plenty of clearance but, don't forget, it must be halved for the two sides of the car. The side mirrors are foldable but for reasons I will explain I only fold the driver's side mirror.

Inside, the garage itself is wider than the door - it needs to be. The car has to be parked much nearer to the garage wall on the passenger side so that I may open my door sufficiently to get out. I use the edge of the unfolded side mirror to judge the gap - about ¾ in – but it’s a nerve-wracking journey. If it's been raining I get wet squeezing out between the car side and the other garage wall.

Recently frost was expected and I'd forgotten to garage the car. I did so in my jim-jams and dressing gown. Felt a bit of a fool, especially since the frost never arrived.

Widening the garage isn’t an option.

QUERY The utility company urges me to install a free smart meter. I’ve heard dreadful things about them. Are they true?

* Duke of Wellington. Often paraphrased as "a close run thing"