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.

Tuesday, 15 October 2019

Rhymes with clog, smog, bog

What was I doing on December 1, 2011, 999 posts ago?

Wiping egg from my face.

Blogo-named Barrett Bonden, I had just announced I was closing down my 550-post blog, Works Well. The thirty-five comments I received (now, as then, a record) voiced regret, anger but mostly confusion.

In erasing WW I was punishing myself for “lack of judgment”. I’d irritated a commenter (not for the first time nor, I fear, for the last) and was vaguely depressed. When this blog, Tone Deaf, was inexplicably launched two days later the headline read: Possible Cure for Depression.

It looked like a stunt. Perhaps it was. I can’t be sure.

In switching to Tone Deaf I heaved Barrett Bonden overboard and became LdP (Lorenzo da Ponte – Mozart’s librettist). My first TD post starts: “The readers were the best thing about my previous blog. I’m proud of that.” It continues: “Mrs LdP says people liked my previous blog because it was eclectic (aka misguided, scatter-gun, indulgent). Thinks this one won’t work.”

To some extent Mrs LdP was right. TD has never achieved the same kind of rapport Works Well did. Readers fell away; blog friends died.

Still I wonder. My first “real” novel, Gorgon Times, appeared a year later. Did I discard WW to devote myself – monastically – to novels? If so I hadn’t thought things through. Novel writing is a lonely sport. Throughout most of my life I’ve done without friends. Works Well had changed this; it seemed I had friends though it’s not for me to say. Whatever, I’d hardly served them well.

Destructive acts are exhilarating but not for long. Writing fiction can be exhilarating but it’s mostly sweat and tears. Now, with age, fiction is ten times harder. Blogging, strangely, gets easier. Answers to questions, however, become more remote.

Monday, 7 October 2019

Stepping up

Plastic Yamaha may have a more important role to play
I hate missing singing lessons. They’re an essential fixture and will be until I succumb to gagaism, fire, flood or any other Act of God. V has said if old age deprives me of car insurance she’d drive over each week. “You’d accompany me on my plastic Yamaha?” I asked, knowing we haven’t space for a Joanna. “I’m up for that,” she said, cool as a Dry Martini. I was touched.

Last night my runny nose morphed into tight coughing; today I was due at Little Dewchurch for my estimated 171st. lesson. My bedroom warm-up (Ah-ah-AH-ah-ah) sounded precise and plangent, though singers are poor judges of their own voice. In the car, sucking a mentholated pastille, I warmed up again; still OK. I decided that if my throat turned out to be crap I’d opt for purely verbal instruction. As it happened, V gave my voice thumbs up.

Which was just as well. This morning turned out to be a big musical step forward, only exceeded by January 5, 2015, when V first said my voice had a future. It will take more than 300 words to do it justice, it may not be comprehensible or even interesting to many, but forgetfulness compels me to provide some sort of permanent record. Pardon my indulgence.

The song. Nun wandre Maria (Journey on, now, Mary). Hugo Wolf, one of Europe’s greatest German-speaking song-writers along with Schubert, Schumann and Mahler. Previously (ie, as a listener) I could never get on with Wolf, finding him austere, remote and – musically – slightly odd. The German lyrics are genuinely poetical and were written by Paul Heyse, a writer and translator awarded the 1910 Nobel Prize for Literature.

What’s it about? Joseph urges a tiring Mary on towards Bethlehem (“... your strength is weakening, I can hardly – alas – bear your agony...”) . The song’s musical heart is the refrain, Nah is der Ort (The place is near), repeated five times, each progressively more heart-rending.

The difficulties. It has a comparatively small dynamic range and many of the prominent intervals are quite small. The impression is one of musical subtlety. Also Wolf frequently favours sequences in which one note is repeated – in one case nine times. Wolf introduces time variations, again quite subtle, to these one-note wonders and the singer must concentrate to make the best of them.

It’s a masterpiece and this morning – with V’s help – I uncovered a tiny example of how masterpieces happen. The revelation lay in that refrain. Unfortunately for monoglot Brits, the translation above has been anglicised. A literal translation of Nah ist der Ort would be: “Near is the place”; this maintains the order of the German words and is vital. “Place”, a humdrum almost anonymous word, has been deliberately chosen by Heyse the poet to label the exact spot where Christianity originated. A word without the frills at the end of a line! A gift to the composer which Wolf receives with eager hands and reacts appropriately.

Recognising these small acts of genius – on behalf of the composer and the lyricist – helps put those one-note lines into perspective but it’s harder for me to focus usefully on that causal relationship. This is all new stuff to me.

I can do no more now than provide the means whereby you too can share this masterpiece. Here’s Olaf Bär gently acceding to Hugo Wolf’s bidding.

Readers with better memories than me will recognise I posted about Nun Wandre Maria (and Olaf Bär) as recently as May 6 this year. But that was pre-revelation. Today I’m more grown up.

Saturday, 5 October 2019

My anonymous guide

The height difference didn't diminish my affection
Damn! I’ve forgotten her name. I need to be sympathetic, let’s call her Han.

Han was guide to thirty European journalists visiting Japan in 1988, guests of  techno-giant Citizen Watch. Frequently it was grim work. With our bus immobilised in Tokyo traffic-jams, she told “little stories” – vignettes of Japanese life. Alas, French, German and Swiss journos proved just as oafish as their British counterparts and she was ignored.

I, however, had other fish to fry and needed Han’s help. I’d been commissioned – quite separately - to explain those Japanese hotels where guests sleep in tubes like torpedoes in a submarine. Han found me a contact. In a hyper-technical interview about just-in-time procedures at Citizen I needed the company’s best translator. Han got me the company president’s personal aide. Finally I’d been forced to represent the Brits at the Sayonara evening and had peppered my speech with sentiments in Japanese. Han phoneticised them for me.

Han was an attractive woman and knew Western culture; I liked her. Crossing a plaza we let a wedding entourage pass. Why, I asked , did everyone look so gloomy? Han averred it was probably the money. Years ago I'd read H. L. Mencken saying Japanese Shintoism was perhaps the silliest religion in the world. I was minded to follow this up but needed to know whether Han was religious; I didn’t want to offend her. “I am a free-thinker,” she said, and I liked that.

On the last day I struggled into central Tokyo and after several linguistic misunderstandings I bought the latest Graham Greene, Han’s favourite author. At the airport she tore away the beautiful wrapping and was overjoyed. I laughed, explaining she should have waited to unwrap it just in case the gift proved duff. She said, “I knew it wouldn’t be.”

Wednesday, 2 October 2019

Look back in detail

What was life like 59 years ago?

We were living briefly in W1, London's swankiest postal district, could shop at Selfridges if we'd had the money (I was paid £800 pa = $981.46) and could walk into the West End at night without the risk of being mugged. Work was half a dozen tube (ie, subway) stops away and I could just about afford the cost of a rail ticket to my home town, Bradford, which these days, costs £120 (= $147.22) one way, if bought on the day.

I doubt I bought more than two or three books a year (couldn't afford them) and we were both regular visitors to Marylebone Public Library (see pic), now pulled down. Amazingly we were able to eat out a couple of times a month, thanks to The Student's Guide to London.

We bought a TV later but only installed a phone when we returned from the USA in 1972. I was working on a couple of ramshackle magazines (Tape Recording Fortnightly, Stereo Sound), was made redundant and moved to a house magazine published by Wimpey, the building and civil engineering company - the first of  two low points in my life as a journalist.

VR was finishing her training at Charing Cross Hospital as a State Registered Nurse and I occasionally cooked for myself: a pound of fried sausages (speared and eaten from the fork) and "curry" (boil rice, add curry powder, stir).

Supermarkets had been launched but only in the outer suburbs. Grocery shopping in W1 was over the counter and some items had to be weighed and put into bags.

Privation didn’t matter. I was off the leash in one of the world’s greatest cities and finally had a girlfriend. On the whole my good luck has continued.

Tuesday, 24 September 2019

The sun supreme

Brexit! How that clicket-clackety word deadens the spirit.

Brexit will allow us to "take back control" we were told. Failing to add we would find ourselves in a circus where a clown had become the ringmaster and was insisting the audience too should don the motley and paint a big red smile on its face.

This morning I was in the Forest of Dean, a place my father warned us about just before our honeymoon tour. "Bogeymen will come through the trees and carry off you and your bride," he said. More on that later but don't hold your breath.

My needs today were more mundane. For reasons other than the most obvious, my car needed a new cigarette lighter. In the stylish if austere dealership waiting-room a huge TV tuned to Sky News burbled almost inaudibly. For a while I ignored it, Sky was once owned by the saurian Rupert Murdoch and my antipathy still persists.

The clocked ticked on beyond 10 am and abruptly I was transfixed. Today was THE day! And 10.30 was THE time! Britain's supreme court would rule on whether Clown Johnson's decision to suspend Parliament was lawful. And here we were: court president Baroness Hale, a gilded spider brooch on her right shoulder (Bad omen for the political right?), spoke the momentous words clearly but almost silently. It's considered bad form to turn up the wick on a waiting-room TV and I strained every ear muscle.

In a phrase I, a wordsmith, could not have bettered the suspension was deemed to be "unlawful, void and to no effect." The future is still cloudy of course but briefly the sun broke through. A happy morning. The bogeyman held at bay.

Saturday, 21 September 2019

Recumbency: yea or nay?

Young people (ie, 75 and below) won’t make head nor tail of this.

Should one feel guilty about dozing while the sun shines? Especially after lunch or, in my case, brunch.

Drifting off on the couch is one of the most seductive experiences I know. It’s not just a matter of parting (temporarily, one hopes) from an increasingly defective body, one also discards the carapace of history. The memories of commuting, of wearily contemplating some unattractive DIY project, of reminding oneself about the need for toilet rolls. That delicious onset of heaviness as we descend... In dozing we are shriven.

But the question about guilt remains. In becoming an atheist I passed briefly – in my youth - through various Christian institutions, mostly Noncomformist. All seemed to suggest that pleasurable experiences should, perhaps must, be paid for. I believe it is a Calvinist tenet and somehow I’ve never shrugged it off.

VR is in two minds about dozing. Yes it happens, but she finds the abrupt return to wakefulness so traumatic that any delights are immediately swept away. While I, alas, find reality’s renewal almost as seductive as its disappearance.

My maternal Grannie was born into the mid-Victorian era and died at 96. She dozed but, when awake, sought niggling tasks. Were these two things related? I doubt I’d have got a straight answer.

Here’s the crux. Awake, is it likely I’d devote this “saved” time to useful work? It’s true I wash up (and dry!), occasionally water the garden, prune the more obstreperous bushes – all unwillingly. But rehearsing An die Musik, writing a sonnet or struggling through Bertrand Russell can’t be regarded as useful activities.

The question is of course rhetorical. I shall continue to doze. Framing rejoinders to a Calvinist figure of authority as the eyelids subside.

Monday, 16 September 2019

Marly - Salutations

In religion, some literary tastes and politics I’m Marly Youmans’ polar opposite yet it doesn’t seem to matter a damn. She doesn’t blog much now but earlier I was tempted into long comments at The Palace at 2 AM to which she always conscientiously replied. For me a window on an entirely different and civilised way of life with strangely Faulknerian roots. We both write novels (she much more professionally) and that was a bond.

I bought Marly’s The Book of The Red King, suspecting it might not be my cup of tea, poems written by Fool en route to the Red King’s palace. I’m not into myth/fantasy and my fictional characters include a former production manager at a washing machine manufacturer. Not social realism y’unnerstand, but slightly gritty.

However in my sere, yellow and almost-dropping-off years I write verse. Marly’s good at that except hers is poetry. Red King may emerge as a narrative but in the interim I’m treating her poems as separate entities. Looking for what races my motor. Plenty does. It’s not exactly news but Marly loves words:

And beauty – golden perianth,
Blown glass, the bending trees
A marble fairy on a plinth.

But they don’t have to be exotic

The water let him down. It took him in
The water waved his hair as if with love
Cold lensed against his eyes as if to show...

Marly’s eclectic in this cento (ie, a patchwork)

A different kingdom, whole words apart (Proust)
Voices in the waves always whispering (Dickens)
And murmuring of boughs, and sleepy boughs (Yeats – a Marly trade mark)

Edges into my Schubertian world with The Miller’s Son

The arms are strange, almost a pair of legs
Borrowed from a horse...

And there’s The Twelfth-night Fool but I’ve run out of...

Wednesday, 11 September 2019

Goodbye Continong

Whatever happens to Britain, it’ll take ages – perhaps for ever – to suggest
we’re not a bunch of oafs. Since oafishness prevails, here’s another tranche*.

*French for slice.

Damn Brexit, curse Brexit,
And all the votes that spawned it,
To seek a past that never was,
And bring us this Hell's armpit.

Not Europe, they whimpered,
They'll do us down, unhindered.
They envy us our history,
And all the duds we've knighted.

Those rightists, those Tories,
Those half-told fairy stories
Who gave a crown to butch BJ
To choke half Kent with lorries.

It’s fear that’s behind it,
It’s foreign and they mind it
Un-English is what scares their pants
Although M. Thatcher signed it.

No grand thoughts, no culture,
Just relish for a rupture
A love of futile loneliness
And pickings for a vulture.

Oh England, you shame me
I don’t care if you blame me,
I care for European peace
And, yes, I am the same me

To the tune of A-tisket, a-tasket.
For a sprechstimme version click HERE

Tecno-note. For several years, thanks to MikeM, I've used dead simple Picosong
to post audio files to my blog. But Picosong has closed down. No worries,
Soundcloud is even simpler

Friday, 6 September 2019

Blessed surcease

It's Friday, VR's art group day. This afternoon I'll drive her 11 miles to the village hall in ultra-middle-class Ewyas Harold, two hours later I'll pick her up. Since I'll have the car out of the garage we'll pay a morning visit to Tesco for any necessary weekend shopping. A Friday like hundreds of others since we moved to Hereford over twenty years ago.

I get up slowly to ensure I don't enrage my lower back. I'd like to pretend I may get up without reflecting on my age but my back prevents this. Yup, I'm old! Even though going downstairs slightly eases unwelcome messages from the Malign Kingdom of the Lower Lumbar Delta. God rot them all down there.

One cannot consciously forget one's age but one may - temporarily - replace that awareness. How? By doing something new, never attempted before. There's a general election in the offing and I could vote Tory. Risky! Very risky! My left hand would reach stranglingly for my throat as my right hand wielded the pencil.

I could Google the rules of lacrosse. Read a whodunnit by P. D. James. Count backwards from a thousand. Try to play Wiegenlied on the keyboard with my toes. A multitude of novel experiences.

In the kitchen is a fruitcake, cooked yesterday and scattered with almond flakes. It's VR's cake day at the art group. I could bake a cake, that would be new. I imagine the procedure. Obtain a mixing bowl, yeah I know where that is. Then... what? Crack an egg. Then....? Beyond is only a void.

But never mind. For the first time ever I've imagined baking a cake. Forgetting my age. And the MKLLD messages have become fainter.

Simple really.

Tuesday, 3 September 2019


Monday's singing lesson was hard. And mildly unbelievable. The last seven notes of Gaelic Blessing ("Deep peace of Christ to you") are all the same pitch – B. How hard is it to sing the same note seven times? Fact is, the notes have different lengths yet must hang together as a musical phrase.

Also, in singing any note you are not only influenced by what went before, you’re anticipating what's to come. A "time travelling" state of mind I’m still coming to terms with.

"I've worked you really hard today," said V.

Quite true, I thought.

"You've done really well."

It hadn't seemed like it.

"It's amazing how far you've come."

Have I? But then I'm nearing four years of solo tuition, that should be the case.

The room was silent from our labours. V sat at the piano (“It needs retuning,” she fretted.) and, because of intermittent back pain, I sat on an upright wooden chair. The much-scrutinised score, source of all rewards and difficulties, stood near-vertical on the music stand.

V said, "The better you get, the more picky I have to be."

I thought. "The better I get the more pickiness I must be prepared to take."

Not a brilliant aphorism but it would pass.

V said, "Don't work on Gaelic Blessing at home. We're going to forget it for a while."

That was a blow. There were answers I’d envisaged trying, but V's the boss. She’s the one who has brought me this far. As I drove home the embedded words of Gaelic Blessing rose unbidden in my mind/throat and I mumbled them before I realised and stopped. Same again, today, as I waited at the hairdresser’s.

I don’t actually possess music, it possesses me.

Thursday, 29 August 2019

Democracy revisited

NEW READERS START HERE Britain voted to leave the European Union (Brexit) to regain the country's/parliament’s sovereignty from interfering foreigners. But at what cost? Negotiating trade deals with the EU have failed, a no-deal Brexit looms. No-deal is predicted to be disastrous for our economy. Johnson, our new PM, favours no-deal. To prevent the mainly anti-no-deal parliament from hindering him Johnson has, in effect, closed down parliament for a short, crucial period. So much for sovereignty.

Yesterday daughter Professional Bleeder left Hereford by bus, returning to her home in Luton. Sent us this email

At Gloucester a woman accosted the driver. She was booked to travel on this coach, but not until it arrived in Cheltenham. This morning she had "found herself in Gloucester" and wondered if she could get on now.
The driver saw no problem but wouldn’t let her sit in a reserved seat, even though she had a seat reservation. Not too strange; this is National Express.

From the back comes a voice. "Has she paid to go from Gloucester to Cheltenham?"

My mind, but luckily not my mouth, responds with, "How is that your business?"

The driver appears nonplussed, but says that she hasn't. Outrage breaks out; this is "not fair"

The driver points out the woman will miss the coach in Cheltenham if she does not get on it now, thus losing her money. Chuntering ensues

The driver now addresses all passengers. Those wearing headphones are asked to remove them, children are asked to pay attention. You could cut the atmosphere with a knife. "I want everybody to decide. Should this woman pay the fare from Gloucester to Cheltenham? Raise your hand for yes"

We thought Johnson had murdered democracy.

We voted no.

Wednesday, 28 August 2019


 - via four limericks

Old age guides the poor and the rich.
To a justified grave, out of which,
We cry, “Far too soon,
You promised the moon.”
And “Ain't that a sonuva bitch?”

You can't fight the onset of age,
Armed only with protests of rage.
Your fingers will shake
Your dandruff will flake
When you see what’s on the next page.

A page that will turn out to be,
No more than a banality,
Dull, obtuse and crass,
Like your face, my ass,
It’s nothing, it’s eternity.

But, honest, it’s not all bad news,
You won’t just be singing the blues,
When hair turns to bald,
And sex life has stalled,
Just don’t care: what better excuse?

Monday, 26 August 2019

Anyone seen Winston Smith?

Eighty-four, is it significant? Well yes. Orwell saw to that. When it rolled round most people said things weren't as bad as he predicted. But what's a decade here or there? Is Big Brother more or less evident now? Might he already be present? I leave it to you for answers.

Eighty-four is easily divisible. But does that make forty-two more important? For me times were happier. After many stupid, almost accidental, detours and one big geographical transplantation I was on the verge of my first editorship. Ahead lay a magazine with all its pages blank; it would be up to me to fill them. Wasn't that mildly horrific? Might I run out of ideas? The answer was no. This was what I was born to do.

And half of forty-two is 21. Three sevens, said to be highly significant, some kind of transition from childishness to adulthood. Chance would be a fine thing! I lay on a hospital bed, steadily reading my way through the sparse library, unimpressed by Malaya's mountains which surrounded me. The night before I'd played bingo for the first and last time; won a can of fifty cigarettes (Hospital attitudes have changed since then.) which I gave away since I didn't smoke. Why was I in hospital? Because the space between the fourth and fifth toe on my right foot was sore.

Time like an ever-rolling stream,
Bears all its sons away,
They fly forgotten as the breeze,
Dies at the op'ning day.

Hid by early-morning mist, but only four hundred yards away, is the gorgeous River Wye. Might I ever have foreseen such propinquity?

Monday, 19 August 2019

The Little Book of Ian (condensed)

The object in Ian's hand is related to
peafowls and is intended as a
Christmas tree decoration. Neither
fact is important, only that he
disapproves of the spheroid as his
face characteristically shows
Ian, our 34-year-old grandson, has a passion for cooking plus a talent for quips and opinions, quirks of behaviour and left-field observations. So much so that “grandson” hardly describes the relationship. His Mum (PB - Professional Bleeder) is presently staying and the conversation regularly turns to what we call The Little Book of Ian. What follows are some extracts.

This post far exceeds my self-imposed limit of 300 words. I considered splitting it into three sections but resisted. What follows is a more complete portrait.

VR marinaded dried fruit in rum to create a delicious dessert, but failed to christen it. Ian calls it: rumtana.

Meat sold in supermarkets comes on a polystyrene tray and lies on an absorbent sheet. Ian: meat nappy (US: diaper).

If someone even mentions celery Ian has to leave the room.

On visits to our home to cook (superbly) for us Ian passes his leisure time frowning at his smartphone and sipping from a pint glass of tap water. Gets through several in a day.

Ian Rule: One may not have gravy with a white sauce (savoury) pie.

Ian Rule: A pie must have bottom and top crust. No bottom crust and it’s not a pie.

PB once cooked a Quorn pie for vegan Daniel (Ysabelle’s partner). Ian called it The Pie of Lies.

Shopping bags may not be hung on the hook of a supermarket trolley: they bang against Ian’s knees. Ian is 6ft 5 in. tall.

When others of our family are touring the city on foot and feel they must visit the lav. Ian disapproves.

Ian Rule: Ian disapproves of those who prefer an inevitably mediocre meal at one of the chain restaurants rather than risk a possible bad meal at an indie restaurant. Ian sub-rule: One must explore.

On returning home after a day out (even as early as 4.30 pm) Ian changes into his PJs which are black.

All Ian’s clothes are black.

Ian is very, very quiet about the house.

Ian dislikes dogs but loves cats.

Ian insists on lumpwood charcoal when doing a barbecue.

Ian hates puns. In particular a clock face which incorporates a moustache with the slogan: “I moustache you the time.”

Ian suffers (unfashionably) from chilblains.

Ian likes mangas.

Before going to the corner shop for a single chilli Ian showers or has a bath; sometimes also shaves his head.

Ian hates Beko, the freezer manufacturer. Hopes “they will die”.

Our washing machine plays a tune when done; Ian denounces this as “too jolly”. Ian’s washing machine is designated Piddy (because of its “piddying” noise).
Ian’s arrivals home are unobtrusive and idiosyncratic. On opening the door (or making a phone call) he says “Herro.” in a vaguely stereotypical Chinese accent. His Mum is required to respond: “Is it me you’re looking for?”

When music festivals were comparatively unpopular with youth Ian supported them. Now their popularity is enormous, he doesn’t. Believes many attend such events for reasons other than musical.

 When asked a question he cannot answer Ian says, “Ermm... peas.” This is according to Ysabelle, his cousin. No one else has confirmed this.

Ian can cut vegetables into tiny cubes “like a machine”.

Ian insists fish and chips aren’t a takeaway.

Our other daughter, OS, who also cooks for us, likes our kitchen. Ian responds: “I like the budget”.

Ian is pro-offal.

Ian can’t bear the (admittedly uncongenial) texture of newly acquired wooden spoons. Feels they should be “broken in” first (ie, by somebody else).

In winter Ian skis with a group of young men assembled online from all over the country. He cooks for them and they pay part of his ski-ing expenses. Or, it is believed, used to.

Ian is very attentive to VR.

Ian attends the Borderline Film Festival with us. He prefers “difficult” movies, especially from Japan.

Ian always enables sub-titles when watching TV. Yet he is not deaf.

Ian’s Mum’s boiler started roaring; she reported to Ian the plumber had visited. Ian commented: “Did he use a chair and a whip?”

Ian has electrical skills but is eccentrically lousy at washing up. Like me, however, he dislikes dish-washers.

Ian hates hamburgers made with brioche. (“Brioche is a cake”.)

Ian never wastes leftovers.

Ian rarely shows enthusiasm but becomes ecstatic when given a free-hand by us to choose purchases at the butcher.

Ian cannot sing.

Occasionally his Mum’s friends ask if Ian will cook them something. Ian does so with the proviso that they don’t pay. Although not visibly sociable Ian is almost universally beloved by his Mum’s friends.

Ian hates the Apple ethos.

When I received an attempted email blackmail, Ian was a great help.

Ian never takes local buses, prefers to walk.

Ian occasionally disapproves of my menu choices in “caffs”. Sternly discouraged my desire to find out whether four eggs was the limit when ordering egg-and-chips.

Ian answers the phone sepulchrally, as if suffering from a rare disease.

Ian is horribly sun-sensitive. Uses a very powerful lotion which he refers to as “Burkah in a bottle”.

Ian took to opera comparatively late in life. Was ravished by Madame Butterfly.

I offered to buy Ian a kitchen knife. This took ages. He dislikes the “jutting-out bits” on the handles of many knives.

Saturday, 17 August 2019


A warning to cigar smokers
- in both senses
A post about sexual solecism to compensate for an unforeseen inability to deliver a post about mosaics (see Suspense).

Immediately, one looks for wriggle-room. Who better than the Sage of Vienna to blur the issue? Much innocent mileage may be derived from “the existence of libido - a sexualised energy with which mental processes and structures are invested and which generates erotic attachments, and a death drive - the source of compulsive repetition, hate, aggression.”

I  mean that’s everyday life, innit? I don’t dislike Huw Edwards. I love him because he reminds me of my Mum.

As for my cucumber phobia, so obvious. The shape – though, happily, not the colour - is ludicrously symbolic.

Then there’s Paris, not the source of Freudianism but one of its largest Petri dishes. I’m happier walking down its boulevards these days. But that’s because they’ve done away with all those pissoirs: large cast-iron cylinders on street corners within which male Parisians could gain physical (perhaps spiritual) comfort providing they didn’t mind exposing their lower limbs to public gaze.

I’ve read Proust. Say no more.

But let’s have something more up to date. I drive a car and the engine projects forwards. (Yes, I know that’s the norm but when did you last give yourself a Freudian workover?) Not only does the engine project but I cannot see its foremost extremity. There’s doubt there. Quick as a flash automotive doubt becomes doubt about virility, gender, and whether bow-ties are a sexual signifier. I’d drive the car backwards but the boot (US: trunk) would then do the projecting. Close your eyes to the horrible associations that invokes.

I’m sorry I failed with mosaics. I got too involved smashing the tiles and I shouldn’t have. Am I now shriven? Shrove? Shreeved?

Friday, 16 August 2019


Mosaics: Part one

On Fridays VR attends art group in Ewyas Harold (a village near the Welsh border). Today it’s mosaics and I got involved. Scouting the area for decorative ceramic tiles which I then smashed into mosaic-able fragments. Not forgetting grout to fill in the interstices. Ideas flitted. The interstices should not be too wide. The layout must be better than random. How about sub-designs? And mind the sharp edges of the tile shards.

Driving VR and daughter Professional Bleeder (here on a visit) to EW I became minatory. I would be very disappointed, I said, if I was unable to detect signs of intellectualism in the two finished mosaics. Hadn’t I scouted and smashed until knackered?

Above are the raw materials. In 45 minutes I shall leave to pick the two mosaic-ers. With their works.

To be continued.

Mosaics: Part two

Ooo...er, what's this? I drive down to EW and all I see is WIP (work in progress). The art group consists either of slow-learners or perfectionists. The revelations - if any - must be postponed a week. Meanwhile, how do I fill in the time? A sonnet? A short story centring on prettiness? A scandalous post about sexual solecism, vivid enough to disguise this administrative booboo.

To be continued (at least until Friday the 23rd)

Wednesday, 14 August 2019


There’s singing and there’s the anticipation of singing.

These days I don’t always rise at 06.25, the duvet may be just too seductive. But on singing-lesson days, always. Sometimes at 06.24, impatient for my other world. Downstairs for a swig of fizzy water from the fridge. As it slices over my palate - painfully – I think about my throat. Will it work? The house sleeps and it’s too early for even a tentative note.

The computer beckons. Time for another post? Why not one about singing which is not really about singing? Comments for other blogs, perhaps? While their authors sleep since some live in the USA and must – despite their mild outrage – lag behind me in rickety old UK.

VR will still be abed when I return to the en-suite. As the green blob of shaving gel morphs into foam, I open my mouth amid all this whiteness. Creating a ragged sort of hole. Can legitimate noise proceed from this void? Briefly I require reassurance.

The car must be backed out of the garage and the document case containing scores chucked on the back seat. The case is heavier now. How many pieces of music sweated over since January 2016? Fifty?

I sit on the couch, waiting. I’m always early. Then out to the roundabout on the A465 which – I’ve never understood why – is free from traffic at this time. The drive on narrow roads takes twenty minutes and passes through heartbreakingly lovely Herefordshire. Farms, sheep in fields, the tiny village of Kings Thorn, the detached houses of the privileged. I’m singing to myself now. The la-la-la-la-la sequence of the warm-up. An easy-ish song, say, Time Stands Still.

Now I’m parked in V’s impossibly steep driveway. I press the doorbell, the dog barks, the door opens...

Thursday, 8 August 2019

Even older Moore's Almanac

In old age the past dwarfs the future. Tone Deaf tends to rake among the ashes; instead, here are things that will, should or might happen.

Trousers. Are three pairs enough? How often should they be washed? Once a year or biennially? The conviction grows I need another pair. Such a fag finding sand-coloured chinos of the right texture. Decision at the weekend.

Booze for my birthday party. While I'm awake wine, beer, cider and Sprite are consumed. When I'm abed youth turns Scotch and Drambuie into Rusty Nails. Until about 4 am. Must tread carefully until midday.

The novel. I'm a 21st-century writer yet the MS lacks a bonking scene. In an earlier novel I got round this with sex that was comical. Is the time ripe for a political allegory?

TV. I can hardly wait for the last two instalments of Chernobyl. Masterly. Gripping. Authentic.

Shoes. They are light brown; when it rains the toe-ends go whitish, hinting at poverty. The tin of polish (A huge step backwards into a deprived past) has only been used twice. Ye Gods, the paste could be drying out. But where's the brush?

Books with clout. Bertrand Russell's An Outline of Philosophy isn't enough to maintain my sagging reputation as an intellectual. After all, it's only an outline. Time to face up to the Thomas Pynchon acquired cheaply from Tesco's secondhand books table. Courage!

Appearance. My hair suggests I'm aping Charlton Heston as Moses in The Ten Commandments. Could let it grow but I enjoy chatting to Shara, my stylist. A light trim then?

Cake. This morning VR asked me: What sort? I dithered, finally said: Fruit. Fine, but it must be seed cake next time. The thinking man’s cake.

Sunday, 4 August 2019

The Kraken wakes

Suddenly the flood-gates opened. After more than a year of immobility and a growing lack of faith on my part, Rictangular Lenses leaped forward: 11,000 words in two months, homing in on halfway house at, say, 50,000 words. Here's the latest passage which - perhaps to reassure myself - I'm exposing to sunlight.

Alas, such exposures are often at odds. Readers want to know what's happening while I'm keen to know mainly how those happenings have been fashioned. Something of an indulgence, then. Especially since I've blown my 300-word limit for posts.


THE SENSE of luxury quickly palled but Lindsay pursed her lips, convinced her plans would eventually converge and everything would make sense. The limousine that had wafted them from Birmingham’s suburbs into deep, dark rural Oxfordshire was equipped with a sliding glass panel which isolated the chauffeur; despite this Greta Dane whispered. “I still don’t see why Gerald and Amber couldn’t come.”

Lindsay sighed. “It has to be private, just the two of us. It could even be embarrassing. If things work out we’ll arrange a celebration for all four. That will be up to you.”

“All so hole-in-the corner.”

Even so her mother had had her hair styled and tinted for the event. Her full evening dress may not have been new but Lindsay had never seen it before. Other changes were more organic. Greta’s neck had retracted most of its cords and her face was fuller, no longer strained. Best of all, despite a tendency to complain, her tone of voice had dropped half an octave. Had become more... What? Motherly?

“I have no secrets from Gerald,” Greta said primly.

Lindsay had sworn to control herself throughout this early awkward part of the evening but perhaps being submissive could be overdone.

“Mother, do you still see me as your daughter?”

And it was as if Greta’s face had retreated months, perhaps years. Back into embitterment. She remained a silent passenger in the vehicle and a degree of ease only returned when an acolyte handed her out and acted as escort into the converted Georgian manor-house.

Softly glowing lighting within the hallway flattered her and Lindsay took her hand. “Let’s enjoy ourselves,” Lindsay said and Greta’s fingers tightened.

A genial sommelier offered Greta the loan of his gold-framed grannie glasses when Greta worried – sotto voce – about the type size on the menu. The glasses struck an appropriate note, friendly and lacking fuss. Greta accepted but held the folded frame as if for lorgnettes; to have hooked them round her ears might have been over-familiar.

“Champagne?” Lindsay suggested.

“Goodness!” said Greta, since luxury was re-asserting itself. A table-cloth, thick as the Queen’s coronation robe, covered a circular table for two, privily pushed into a niche away from the centre of the dining room. For Lindsay had explained to the restaurant that things “would be said”. Lindsay, spying from her niche, looked out into the glittering concourse and listened to the sounds of people with money enjoying themselves. This was a very expensive restaurant. The talk was clear yet at moderate volume. Strangely it was non-assertive. But then people with money – out for an evening’s dining – could afford not to be competitive here. Their credit cards would do that in a hushed, very British way, offstage and handled by minions.

Gently urged by Lindsay Greta – never an over-enthusiastic eater – chose stratospherically priced turbot and the champagne did the rest. Mother and daughter relaxed into each other’s space, smiled and broke off occasionally for private memories. Once Greta touched Lindsay’s wrist.

Coffee was served but ignored. Lindsay had prepared for this moment.

“Mother, my professional life has changed. Profoundly.”

“So I can see."

Thursday, 1 August 2019

Holiday scrapbook

End-on view of marvellous Millau viaduct on drive to Creissan.
British architect, Norman Foster, designed it and all France is
pleased with the result. I reflect on this as Brexit grinds away
towards its meanly isolationist end. 

RR (resurrected as Mr Punch) and VR
regard the Bouzigues oyster beds,  knowing full well
 some Tone Deaf readers can't abide oysters.
Dialogue at St Chinian street market, Languedoc, France.

Butcher: Monsieur?
RR: Your lamb liver has a price tag, your veal liver hasn't.
Butcher: That's so.
RR: This suggests the veal liver is more expensive. Terribly expensive.
Butcher and wife roar with laughter at my deduction. I order a small slice of veal liver and the butcher puts it on his scale.
Butcher (shouting): Two hundred euros! (ie, $220.77)
All three of us laugh.

NOTE FOR US READERS, NOTORIOUSLY SUSPICIOUS OF OFFAL. I fear this is the way things are in France.

When the reading exceeds 40 deg C where else would you go?
Creissan cemetery. Some graves, randomly adorned, look more
like a garage sale. (Below) Others await paying customers.

Wednesday, 31 July 2019

Easing the way back

Returning home from the French holiday villa in Creissan (22 miles north of the Mediterranean coast) is inevitably a burden. The distance, joyfully accepted a fortnight before, now seems formidable. Creissan to Calais is 660 miles (10 hr 12 min), then there's the Channel Tunnel crossing (say 1 hr 30 min with the queueing), then a further 210 miles (4 hr 10 min) between Folkestone and Hereford. Some 16 hr all told; it takes two days.

We've been doing it for over a decade and are now experts. The key lies in where to break the French part of the journey. For several years we've settled on Forges-les-Eaux, north-west of Paris. As the kilometres unreel we dream of the wine list at the Hotel la Paix.

This is where satnav comes into its own. After years of experimentation the optimum route takes us far closer to Paris than we first thought. Look at the geography. You'd like to weave your way through all those suburbs aided only by an atlas? Masochism can be your only justification. Satnavs mislead you, you say. So do atlases in a country where new roads are added every year. Treat the satnav as a tool not a crystal ball. Dominate it. We tested a small variation while in transit. It worked.

The bill for three at the Hotel la Paix was huge but then we sought catharsis. Achieved this year via a bottle of Latour's Vosne Romanée, followed by a snifter of old armagnac (VR never changes) and two doses of mature calvados for Occasional Speeder and me.

The hotel is beautifully maintained. Note the photo - the flex of the bedside light seems unnecessarily tangled. No! The switch becomes more accessible to the weary traveller. There’s a little treat.

Sunday, 28 July 2019

A horrid thing averted

Dialogue (in French) at Intermarché

RR: There are no toilets in this supermarket? (NOTE: In France it's more chic to phrase questions as statements on a rising cadence than reversing verb and pronoun as we were all taught at school.)

Svelte Young Lady in Customer Service: There are none, Monsieur

RR: Why?

SYLICS: The building is too small.

RR: But some of your customers may feel the need...

SYLICS: It is simply a matter of floor area. (NOTE: For floor area she employs the French word superficie. I recognise its meaning and am ravished)

RR: A French thing, then?

SYLICS: Indeed.
Days later we (RR, daughters Professional Bleeder and Occasional Speeder) are hunting down a near relation of Poulet de Bresse (see pic) for which I am expecting to pay up to £25. The hunt is complicated by the fact that two of us are also suffering from that very special personal need alluded to above. Super-U (another supermarket) is the most likely source. Dare we risk the journey given we may end up chickenless and horribly embarrassed by Super-U's possible lack of a loo. PB checks her mobile phone and discovers there is a toilet off the Super-U's entrance foyer. We drive over and I rush towards the welcoming door. Inside I read a crudely written notice: Pas de papier à cause du vol. I emerge ashen face and my nearest and dearest supply me with several packets of tissue which all sensible women carry instead of handkerchieves. I sing their praises to the skies.

Thursday, 11 July 2019

Hits the spot

I swore I'd never force Proust on anyone, Proust should always be self-inflicted. Also there are pre-requisites. To finish A la Recherche du Temps Perdu a reader must incline towards France and Frenchness, including the bits that many foreigners find difficult. When Charles de Gaulle wrote "All my life I have had a certain idea of France." (Toute ma vie, je me suis fait une certaine idée de la France)" to kick off his Mémoires, it's advisable you have a clue as to what he was on about. For Proust demands that understanding.
On the other hand no one should ever turn away wilfully. Long sentences, paras, parentheses, yes. Complex but not obscure language, yes. Weirdos, yes. Subterranean analysis, yes. But... the Proust reader spends time, lots of it, in a four-dimensional universe and departs with memories as personal and vivid as any reality.
Why personal? Because Marcel tends to dig up stuff which can make you cry out in recognition. What would you expect from him? Tales of sexual whatnot? There are those. But how about a young child, vulnerable in his adoration of his mother, lying tearful in bed, fearing she may not kiss him good-night because there are guests and she may have other duties. How that endures. How the vulnerability nags at me.
I’ve read Kilmartin’s translation twice, perhaps three times. You can download the earlier Moncrief translation free, for a Kindle, as I have also done. During an idle half-hour recently I switched on for that evocative (and ambiguous) first sentence: “I went to bed early,” “I used to go to bed early,” or “I would go to bed early.” Reached the child’s sorrows and switched off. It’s not book you dip into.

Friday, 5 July 2019

RR on losing one's platform of stability

I'm frequently facetious; I find it helps. Had more people been facetious ("Inappropriately lacking seriousness in manner; flippant") towards El Trumpo  he might well have imploded. Convinced it was his nickname south of the Border.

In Spain they have a state lottery with a huge prize; they call it El Gordo (The Fat One). A fine caption for that photo when DT wore full soup-and-fish during dinner at Buckingham Palace.

Laughter can often be more effective than gloomy solemnity.

I hinted in comments to my previous post (The Spine Softens) my next post might be facetious. And here it is.

I'm starting with my toes. The fourth one along (on both feet) is hooked towards the big toe. Should that take capitals? Might Big Toe be another nickname for... No, that's enough about him.

Think of hooks and you think of fish. I once posted about people who dangle their feet into streams inviting fish to nibble away defective skin. I thought it was an admirable use of natural resources. Not many agreed. Misjudge facetiousness and it's egg on your face.

My feet are 10½ which is smallish given my height. VR's feet are a tiny 3. I occasionally wonder if I wore her feet whether I'd topple over, having lost much of my platform of stability (Thinks: I've never used that phrase. 'twould make a good post title.)

My big toe on the right suffers from gout. In my youth I didn't get on with my father and he had gout. It makes me wonder... Not a subject I discuss with my daughters, for obvious reasons.

When it comes to buying shoes I hate to spend more than £30 ($37.67). Don’t tell me I’m wrong, I’m pre-programmed. Socks? Does anyone know what they cost?

Saturday, 29 June 2019

The spine softens

With old age comes timidity.

On December 27 1965, suffering from a heavy cold, I crossed the tarmac at Prestwick (then a primitive airport on the southern bank of the Clyde in Scotland) to embark on a 16-hour transatlantic flight west. Why 16 hours? The plane was propellor-driven and we dog-legged via Reykjavik. I had half a promise of employment. Fifty-four years later my foolhardiness appals me.

Ten years earlier to that I stood on the parapet of a humpbacked bridge in the Lake District, 5 m above a narrow gap in the rocks through which a turbulent river flowed. I jumped. I didn't need to do that.

Age is a stern critic of youth. Beyond seventy "do" becomes "don't'". Tonight I'll be watching highlights of qualifying for the Austrian F1 grand prix while drinking no more than two Bloody Marys. It's the morning headaches, you see.

There's a telephone call I've needed to make for a week now. Purely social. But who can foretell what form the talk will take? I cower in a state of wilful delay.

I know my muscles will ossify, my hearing diminish, my judgment shrink, that I'll be prone to disease and intolerance. But no one told me I'd become a mouse (the mammal, not the IT accessory). A couple in their fifties conceded their seats at the bus station; I needed a wisecrack that would allow me to continue standing with dignity. In the end I couldn't risk it; defeated, I sat down.

God knows I was never gung-ho but I was more than this length of chewed string. So this is why oldsters retire to their non-menacing gardens. Venting their anger on aphids, but quietly. Pah!

Tuesday, 25 June 2019

Let's hear it for trite

Journalism often demands "think pieces" - articles churned out quickly, from a sitting position, minimum research. Preferably none. Tone Deaf readers will notice I haven't discarded this practice since retirement.

Ten minutes ago I was all set for a think piece contrasting clichés with platitudes.  Fatally I broke the think-piece research rule and decided I should cover my rear by checking the exact meaning of platitude. Just as well. The first half I expected:

trite remark, stating the self-obvious

But the second half was new to me:

typically made for the sake of something to say

Obviously I did wonder whether my original idea was itself a platitude. Perish the thought. Ideas are not at all like No. 10 buses. They're rare and they stop for no man.

Platitudes can fill in embarrassing silences. Not always successfully:

Waiting room, STD clinic
X says to Y: Do you come here often?

Touring Bucks Palace
DT: Your Whotsit, did you know Trump Tower has a sign on the front saying Trump Tower? Big letters. Golden. On the front.
Queen: Not on the back, then?
DT: On the front. Trump Tower. Definitely.

The Pope’s antechamber
John Bolton: I got photos, here in my billfold. The Gulf War. Six Days War. Grenada. Korea even, but in black and white
The ghost of Nelson Mandela: Not now, John. Not now.

Anywhere in Britain, late June
Anyone speaking to anyone else: It’s raining.

I know, I know, these aren’t traditional platitudes. But I’ve been hard on platitudes during my contumacious life and they deserve some rehabilitation. I’m glad to see I’m not alone in this. Judging by his responses to Laura Kuenssberg’s interview on the BBC it is clear soon-to-be-enthroned Boris Johnson is doing his best for this form of literary orphan.

Saturday, 22 June 2019

Is modesty good for you?

Been re-reading my earlier posts - see how pathetic my life has become.

Down the years more than one commenter has judged me guilty of "self-deprecation", always that phrase. In the nicest possible way, y'unnerstand.

Guilty, milud! What's more, the trope (First time I've used trope; I could have got it wrong.) was deliberate, the reason obvious. Adopting a self-deprecatory tone frees me from the opposite charge of self-approval. Otherwise smug, for smug is hard to sell.

Even so, I've got to pick my self-deprecatory spots. No use typing myself as ugly. For one thing I've posted portraits which prove it, for another at age eighty-three what else might one expect?

Another point. Tone Deaf's readership is much better educated than its author. Thus if I own up to being a lousy writer and frame the admission in a sentence of lapidary beauty I'll be seen immediately as a quack. And I'll deserve it.

Things can get really complicated. Seen from inside I may conclude I'm mean-spirited. Kind-hearted readers (and there aren't many of the other sort) may say this is irrelevant and proves my honesty. Self-deprecatory honesty, of course, but nevertheless a good thing.

How about this: "Circumstances force me to say I've read Joyce's Ulysses. But I deplore the implicit pat on the back." Self-deprecation is more difficult to recognise there, don't you agree?

You don't? Keep an eye on my next fifty posts, let’s see who wins.

I said I was pathetic. Should I add I’m desperate?

Tuesday, 18 June 2019

Unblocked... perhaps

I swore I'd never post about writer's block. Yet writers are snotty about themselves, believing that everything they do - or don't do - is fascinating. And I have pretensions as you all know.

But, heck, it's been a long time. I started my fifth novel, Rictangular Lenses, in early September 2016. Reached 25,000 words, uncertain steps became a shuffle, a crawl, a mouldering body picked to its skeleton on a desert sand dune. At 33,000 words progress stopped. A year went past.

I could have junked RL but 33,000 words represent a third of the way there. My baby, even though it was on a switched-off ventilator. Suffering a bad attack of mixed metaphors

Here's the situation: In the remaining 66,000 words Events A, B, C, D will happen. I see them, if vaguely. It's the paths that link those events that worry me. They must be original, unexpected and lively - the products of my imagination. But my imagination had taken an unfashionable walk and was now in an ashram, trying to get a mobile signal.

Last week my imagination - wearing flip-flops and a tee-shirt with a Camus quote - returned to Herefordshire. The word count's now 40,000. Here are some new words:

In the sparsely populated business class section of the London flight she turned down several offers of splits of champagne. Tried to sleep but couldn’t. At Heathrow customs, wearied and stiff, she was directed to a side counter there to open her suitcase and expose a pile of unlaundered lingerie. With her mind closed down in self-protection she passed through the Arrivals gate and only sheer luck enabled her to spot Gerald Lovelace, now her stepfather....

But the block could return. Novels are a fool’s business.

Friday, 14 June 2019

One of my yesterdays

Why did I, aged 30, impoverished, married and father to a young daughter, plan exhaustively to leave the most absorbing city in the world - the city where I best fitted in - to find work in the USA? Does part of the answer lie in Bull Durham, a movie set against minor-league US baseball and released years after I returned from the USA?


But am I that mad keen on sport? Journalism was more important, it's all I've ever wanted to do for a living. Books are more important, from classics to trash and back again. Language - French and German as well as English - is more important. The urge to write fiction. The more recent urge to sing.

As I switched on Bull Durham VR said shrewdly, "It stars Susan Sarandon." True, and she looks gorgeous. Then VR admitted Kevin Costner, the co-star, is also a tiny bit sexy.  But Bull Durham is more than its stars.

For me the story is well told and satisfying but probably impenetrable in the UK. Most important it's minor-league, close to my suburban life in Pennsylvania for six years. The characters are generic and I've known their likenesses in the companies that employed me, in the softball team I used to watch. That straining to be competitive which is absent in the UK. That wish to be self-reliant. That directness. That slightly frenzied attitude towards leisure activities.

Durham is a real town in North Carolina. The Bulls’ stadium is slightly run-down and thus believable. I recognised several truths. Once we were settled in our Pittsburgh apartment, the USA ceased to be a world theory and became the neighbours and the parking problems. Watching Bull Durham I was briefly back in that other home.

Cheap time travel

Sunday, 9 June 2019

Untouched by Brexit

Yesterday, unexpectedly, I entered an outpost of paradise. I should have used my phone-camera but I was too absorbed with what I saw. I must now make do with words.

Ashleworth is a village for the well-off, beyond Gloucester. The streets curve tightly and beguilingly through the greenery and one is called Nup End. To the north are the distant Malvern Hills. Yesterday was a rich summer's day but one suspects it's always summer in Ashleworth. That the residents have paid for summer to happen.

Within spitting distance of the centre (though no one here was so crass as to spit) was a spacious and well-appointed cricket ground: the boundary marked out neatly with Woodpecker CC flags, the practice "nets" a permanent fixture, the electronic scoreboard remotely operated, the pavilion extended with a full-length skittle alley.

All the players were correctly togged in white, not a pair of jeans to be seen. Bat met ball with that unique heavy thwack and play progressed. Daughter Occasional Speeder, who chauffeured us here, brought us beer and cider from the bar. Son-in-law, Darren, a member of the Woodpeckers, wore his pads ready to play, but his heroics were not called upon; his team were cruising.

Cricket is more ritual than sport. Best defined by a friend of mine: "Not only is a tie the most likely outcome, it's the most desirable." Impossible to explain to anyone from the USA. As a contest at Ashleworth it was unnecessary, as a mobile element set in the tranquil countryside it was essential.

A sharp shower intervened but its brevity suggested it had been scripted. Proof that this was happening in England. I wondered if the spectators included a country parson but decided he would have been too stagy.

Paradises must always be rural.

Monday, 3 June 2019

Just another day at the office

Recent events had disrupted my singing lessons. I felt out of sorts, out of tune, if you like. I rang V's doorbell urgently.

"Problems?" asked V. There usually are, even when it's only been a week.

"You said I wasn't singing Es Ist Ein Ros... high enough. But it starts with that weak e; I lack confidence, don't feel I'm going to make it. Should I elide "es ist"?"

"No. Emphasise the "s" more."

Always these weird tricks. Even weirder, they work. "What's next?" asked V.

"In Santa Lucia there's a six-note jump between "..prospero è il vento." and "Venite al l'agile..." Another weak e in "Venite". My tone changes."

I demonstrate. V says, "You're singing the e as uh. Let your lower jaw swing open more and add some a to the e." Adding a-sound to an e-sound is hard but I sort of get there.

"And...?" says V.

I fidget."Look, you're terrific at choosing new stuff. Surprising me, taking me up another level. It's just that..." I rootle through my bulging bag of scores as V looks on bemused. “Just give me a hint,” she says.

“It’s my favourite aria...” More rootling. “...in Messiah.”

“Which is?”

Finally I find the damned thing. “He Was Despised.”

The piano accompaniment (an orchestra in real life) is difficult but the vocal line is comparatively easy. Soon I’m singing in the shade of that familiar soaring soprano voice and I’m thinking... what am I thinking?

“It may not be progressive enough,” I babble. “Perhaps something harder. But...”

V ponders. “It’s for an alto, of course. But it’s straightaway obvious you like it. That could be interesting.”

Little of the lesson left but we sing it again.

I’m no longer out of sorts.

DESPISED, for an alto but lowish

Saturday, 1 June 2019

Opening the fridge door

When there’s a crisis in the UK the BBC sends out its doleful news-reader, Huw Edwards, in his suit, to add gravitas.

Gravitas (“solemnity of  manner”) is something Huw has lots of.

Huw is older now. Outside 10 Downing Street recently he was lit by BBC lights and, unfortunately for him, adjacent lights illuminating a reporter from another TV channel. This gave him a greenish pallor down one side, like a haddock left too long in the fridge. I think he uses Brylcreem.

I’ve posted a lot about Huw because he depresses me. But my eloquence is outshone by The Crow, a regular US commenter to Tone Deaf and its predecessor, Works Well, now quieter because of Trumpism. Here’s an apercu dating back to October 5, 20ll:

Huw... looks like Sam the Eagle from the Muppet Show - heavy browed scowl insinuating overweening sense of self-importance, which probably means he actually has low self-esteem, but puts on a good face.

Excellent! But this one, six days later, is not only funny but brilliantly observed:

His voice is like pablum, bland yet vaguely comforting. His body language is confusing, especially when he looks like he's having to hold the desk in place, leaning on it with one forearm while keeping it steady with the other outstretched arm, palm down. He did that for so many of the (YouTube) clips that I thought he must have a boil in his armpit and couldn’t keep his arm close to his torso.

If I have grossly insulted a beloved British icon... I apologize (for causing) you or your fellow citizens any anguish. I wouldn’t hurt any of you for all the pablum in the world.

No anguish whatsoever! Full marks for pablum!

Come back Crow, Tone Deaf needs you.

Monday, 27 May 2019

Hay at its peak

We've been going to Hay Festival since 2003. Yesterday was my best day ever.

Something of his Art: Walking to Lubeck with J. S. Bach. Horatio Clare. Retracing a 250-mile walk the young JS Bach - full of his genius - made to visit the then star of German organ music, Dietrich Buxtehude. A fusion of physical exercise, reflections on nature, on the mind of one of the world's greatest composers and on modern Germany.

Infinite Powers: The Story of Calculus. Steven Strogatz. Calculus is a mathematical method of grasping curves; the basis of understanding our modern world. In physicist, Richard Feynman's, words: the language God speaks. Too tough for you? Strogatz, Cornell professor of mathematics, simplified it wondrously, even for this uneducated dumbo. Best of all he answered the question: Why?

The Silence of the Girls, Pat Barker. A reworking of Homer's Iliad by one of Britain's calmly brilliant authors. Feminism for all of us.

Chaucer: A European Life. Marion Turner. Yeah, he wrote Canterbury Tales and tends be known as the Father of English Literature. Usually pictured as bearded, wearing an old man's smock. But he had a life too in London, France and Italy. Sold wine, acted as a diplomat (perhaps as a spy), turned English into a vivid means of communication. Oxford professor, Turner, reveals the wider Geoffrey.

(See pic) Between my booking Simon Armitage ("will be reading his stuff") and my seeing him, he became Britain's Poet Laureate. His session, packed to the rafters, turned into a wildly enthusiastic love-in. Used his flat West Riding accent (he was born - and lives - 12 miles from where I was born) as a frame for the slyest of good humours. Emotionally moving but in a modern way. New collection: Sandettie Light Vessel Automatic. A very English occasion

Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Are you beyond flattery?

I'm ashamed I don't listen to BBC radio more often. Parts of it, at least, demand greater engagement than most stuff on telly.

For radio is more than telly without pictures. Take news broadcasts. On BBC 3 (mainly classical music and "high" culture) the announcements last a mere two minutes, all I need when I'm in a Brahms mode. However on BBC 4 (more popularly based) the main 6 pm news lasts a full half-hour. Quite astonishing and here's why.

Radio news readers work at 180 words/minute so that's 5400 words between 6 and 6.30 pm. An info level dense enough to cover the world quite comfortably. Whereas, with telly, once you've stripped out the pictorial filler (bombs bursting, street crowds shouting, buildings containing meetings, daffodils as background, etc) you're reduced to a quarter that total. Radio tells you more.

It doesn't end there. Sports commentators must be more inventive and less prone to cliché. Low costs allow one-off niche-interest programmes. Language is emphasised and poetry heard to advantage. The atmosphere is cosier, more intimate. BBC 3 is known to be stingy about paying guests but this doesn’t discourage big names in music dropping by for a chat. With no images - frequently unnecessary - you have to concentrate, and that’s good. You can listen while ironing.

Of course radio has disadvantages. Playwrights are forced into scene-setting detail which can be tedious – though not with Shakespeare, you’re supposed to know his plays. You do need faces. If you find a voice uncongenial well, tough! – that’s all there is. Maps, charts and other graphics help with difficult subjects.

But never mind. I enjoy being treated as an adult. Freed from repetition because it’s assumed I know things. Dinna forget: telly used to be called The Idiot’s Lantern.

Thursday, 16 May 2019

Would you prefer a DRC* coach tour?

Life's aftermath, a topic regularly visited by Tone Deaf. More so as the years slip by.

I won't qualify for Heaven which is just as well; the few definitions I've come across are vague and the delights based on repetition. But may I therefore ignore the penalties of Hell?

Most atheists do but I find it difficult to pretend that Satan lacks imagination. That Hell's torments aren't tailor-made for individuals.

A hint of this occurred in Cologne. I needed new underpants but German categories of garment size (S, M, L, XL, etc) seem out of step with the British system. Thus one feature of my personal Hell would be tight underpants
All car journeys would occur in a permanent state of mid-summer dawn and the direction would always be east. And yes, for the hundredth time, sunglasses aggravate this problem (everything becomes too dark), they don't solve it.

All Hellish novels would carry a growing conviction that the plot was going to turn out to be a dream.

It would be impossible to order a salad that lacked cucumber.

Guess who would be announcing the end of the world - night after night - on telly.

Red wine from Russia on every carte des vins.

Maintaining one’s garden (with much bending) would be an obligatory way of passing leisure time. Hell’s subsoil would be dominated by concrete fragments, each the size of a grapefruit.

Secondary-school education, conducted by deselected Tory MPs, would be extended into the pupil’s mid-forties. A difficult concept given the omni-presence of eternity.

Movies about heroin addicts would be popular.

Head-colds would be permanent.

Good news: singing lessons every day. Bad news: tone deaf teachers (Get the poetic irony!) and pianos strung with over-boiled spaghetti.

* Democratic Republic of Congo.

Friday, 10 May 2019


Book an on-line appointment with my doctors and you get a finish time as well as a start time. I had ten minutes. Walking over I concentrated on being concise.

She watched attentively, contributed detail that showed she'd been listening, did tests, reached her conclusion. But this isn't about medical matters. It's about my very being.

All done, I looked at my watch. I'd met the ten-minute deadline. Bumblingly, comically, I said I'd worried but was happy now, I hadn't wasted her time. It was unexpected but that's what I intended. She laughed. An extremely attractive woman, laughing became her.

In fact her gender was incidental, she could have been one of the male doctors. What was familiar was that in a socio/professional encounter I had sought to joke. More than that, I had sought to make her laugh.

That distinction is important. Anyone can tell a joke, most shouldn't. Ensuring laughter - I confess unashamedly, I'm good at it - demands technique. By far the best way is first to lull: to start out dully, banal, even a cliché, then snap out something outrageous in the last three or four words. It's the unexpectedness that does it. Involuntary laughter, which is easy to identify, gives you the proof.

But why do I do it? I'm not sure. Most people, but not all, enjoy laughing. Does their laughter make me more lovable? If so there's a darker side. Causing people to laugh is a way of controlling them. Ironically, with my rare failures, confusion is the most likely reaction and that too is a form of control.

I do it all the time. Did it in professional interviews where it is perhaps more explicable. Previous laughers laugh yet again. I love doing it, love the skill. But is it normal?

Monday, 6 May 2019

Is discipline fun?

All my life I’ve sung: in the bath, the car, wherever. First I sang as an amateur (definition: practicing an art unskilfully, a dabbler.)

Things changed when I took lessons. Stuff sung from memory now became more complex. Scores revealed sustained notes I’d chopped short, small runs I’d ignored, consonants I’d blurred.

Take All Through the Night (Welsh trad.), first sung at primary school. Under V’s guidance, I discovered the third line:

Soft, the drowsy hours are creeping

went higher than I expected and I had, in effect, to re-learn the song. Later, with more advanced songs, I made recurring faults: I sounded notes that seemed logical as part of a sequence but were nevertheless incorrect. The correct notes weren’t as high (or low) as my half-trained instincts suggested. One reason why much classical music is beyond the competence of amateurs who depend on memory alone.

Here’s the point. Many may recognise – even sympathise with – my earlier amateur tendency to burst into song. Singing can often be an expression of happiness. But, such sympathisers might ask, doesn’t some of the joy disappear in a welter of niggling detail?

Quite simply, the joy continues but it becomes better focused. Lessons increase one’s alertness to less obvious melodies which depend on small variations in pitch, typically half-tones. These are harder to learn than – say - hymns written for untrained congregations. But when these subtle variations finally stick, ah! the satisfaction.

Alas, it’s not me. It’s German
 baritone, Olaf Bär, now 61,then
 at his pomp. Listen out for groups of
repeated notes. How does monotony
 become great beauty?
Click on Wolf’s Nun Wandre, Maria, it’s famous for frequent stretches of repeated single notes, repetitions which then launch small magical steps of music, up and down. Sometimes yearning, sometimes poignant. Hard to absorb, adult in concept, brilliant in effect. Most important - joyful to sing.

Friday, 3 May 2019

Doesn't it sting?

"I believe they're for eternity. Right, just the one please."
The thought of attaching inorganic bits to my body worries me. "Terrifies" may be better.

Pre-WW2 encyclopaedias showed African women who had stretched their neck by the addition of a column of rings. Others had extended their bottom lip by introducing a dinner plate. But my fears don't demand such extremes. When VR and I chose her wedding ring (at a jeweller's on Regent Street since you ask) there was no chance we'd be buying one for me. A ring represented restriction (physical not metaphorical). Suppose I wanted to take it off? And couldn't? A bad area to wield a hacksaw.

Now things have gone from bad to worse. Lewis Hamilton, an F1 driver, wears diamond ear studs. To do this someone must have drilled through his ear lobes. In my book that's self-harm even if he submitted to the process.

As to those who decorate their faces with permanently-attached gold balls I am in despair. I cannot rid myself of the conviction that some of these artefacts must screw directly into the skull. Aargh!

Nor is my fetish - perhaps non-fetish - consistent. Uneasily I must confess that women's ear studs can look OK. But danglers, no. Suppose they caught in something...? Double aargh!

Yes, this is uninformed prejudice but I am not comforted by explanations. The stuff I refer to, more at home in the workshop than the ensuite, are incompatible invaders. Which have been welcomed.

Post-Brexit? How about leg amputation so that a prosthetic, in platinum and styled in Paris, may be worn. Metaphorically a self-inflicted mutilation which many clamour for.