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.


Wednesday, 27 February 2019

Report card

One of V's great skills as a teacher is judging how much praise to hand out. This makes sense. Mostly I'm following her instruction and/or copying her example and there's a limit as to how praiseworthy this is. That’s what I’m there for. If I'm serious about singing - and believe me, I'm damn serious - I should (privately) dish out my own plaudits, not as self-aggrandisement but in recognition of what's "right".

Late 2018 and early 2019 were periods of significant progress, and V has soberly recorded her approval. Not so much praise as favourable accountancy.

Last Monday V asked me unexpectedly to sing Michael Head's setting of The Lord's Prayer. (Yeah, I know it's strange. Me, an avowed atheist. But I'm also - by now - some sort of musician. And Head can get the best out of a voice.) Lord’s Prayer dates back to my first year when my as-yet undeveloped voice struggled with the higher notes:

For (big swell coming up) Thi - i - I - INE
Is the KI - I - I - INGDOM!
The POW - OW - OWER!
And the GLOR - OR - ORY!


Familiar words way up my range and which demand full wellie.

Since then I’ve tackled LP at home, improving as my voice improved. It's been months since V heard me. On Monday V's living room reverberated with the “right” notes. After just one run-through (always a good sign) V started to comment but couldn't find the right word.

I suggested "religiose" as a joke but for once V didn't laugh.

Silence. Then: “Those high notes went pretty well.”

But now I too was silent; didn't know what to say. I’m not sure I'm in it for compliments.

So how does one respond?

RR's LATEST

Friday, 22 February 2019

Le Blé en Herbe (Much revised)

Awoke from a mildly erotic dream. In a series of outdoor vignettes in Brittany a woman in her late thirties sought to stand with me. Her hair was poorly dyed (dark roots over-prominent) and her behaviour was alternately timorous then timorously forward. I called her Emmeline.

In the dozing half-life that is one of life's greatest blessings I expanded what I remembered of the dream into a wholly controlled scenario. I returned with Emmeline to her parent's home and subjected the whole of the family to a long series of English lessons, getting harder with time and conducted entirely in English, other than my corrections delivered in flawless and hyper-academic French. All joined in enthusiastically and Emmeline approved.

If I hadn't been directing each development of this tutorial I might have imagined I was asleep. When I speak French in dreams my talk is spontaneous, correct and interminable.

Up and shaving, I reflected on Emmeline and even now I feel a powerful if incorrect need to endow that second e with the aigu accent to emphasise her Frenchness. Her nationality is important. Physically she would not be considered good-looking by most Anglo-Saxon males. But to me she has that admantine expression of life which I associate with many French women.

On the way to pick-up the Guardian I day-dreamed. The only possible reason for Emmeline's interest in me is because I have recently taken to wearing black. Mistakenly, no doubt, I believe black to render me formidable. Especially my new footwear: Unisex Slip On School Plimsolls art no 7231 Black & White. Adult shoe size 11, Black.  My shoes have a pedigree, something of a first.

A good start to the day.

Tuesday, 19 February 2019

Like that!

Why learn to sing? Because there’s magic in it.

Still working the German Advent hymn (see, "Supplied by my private NHS") Normally a four-part song, we sing it as a duet. I take the main line, normally sung by the soprano, while V sings accompaniment. It's within my range but I sound weedy and unconfident. Yet I adore the song.

V: Sing just the first line:

R: Es ist en Ros entsprungen

V: The final note (-en) is a tiny bit flat. Sing it slightly higher.

R: (Ditto)

V: Still flattish

R: (Ditto). V: (Ditto).

Bad news. My sense of pitch is reasonable but not good enough to detect this sort of fault when I practice alone at home. I become mildly depressed. Only spitting distance from wholeheartedly depressed.

V: (a) You're singing -en as -ern, add a bit of an a to the e. (b) Your mouth isn't wide enough.

(a) Looks hard but is actually easy. (b) Non-intuitive, thus a seeming lack of control.  A wider mouth will lead to an entirely different sound, even a different note.

It does. The tiny flat has disappeared. "Perfect," says V, but as a throwaway.

The same instructions are applied to the initial word (Es) of the first line. And lo, the song is demonstrably within my range and I’m properly at ease. Best of all I’m looking for more songs pitched higher.

By the back door

"You won't like that," says VR almost always when I leaf through one of her library books or secondhand paperbacks. Usually she's right but this time there were obscure reasons.

The author, Elizabeth Jane Howard, has a long-nosed patrician face which women tend to regard as beautiful. Men less so. I tried her once but no go. Later she surprised me by marrying Kingsley Amis (author of Lucky Jim; father of Martin) who had a reputation as a toper. Facially they seemed ill-matched. As if Grace Kelly had hooked up with Charles Bronson. I stored that factoid away.

VR's EJH acquisition, The Cazelet Chronicles, consists of five novels, each 400-plus pages. I was taking a risk. If I enjoyed number one, The Light Years, there'd be four more door-stoppers. But for some reason VR had challenged my moxie. Plus the Amis thing.

The Light Years starts with a family tree which includes the servants. Very, very necessary. I was forever querying how Edward was related to Rachel. And who were Brig and Duchy. Yes folks, I’d entered a saga but the reading was easy bar EJH’s repeated finger-nail scraper: "bored of". An account of a  difficult childbirth gripped me and I was away. The Cazelet Chronicles were best-sellers but this was well observed. Not always the case. I’m now into book two.

Big deal. My reading choices are heavily prejudiced but light may shine through. I’m not alone, though true intellectuals are more cautious about such admissions. And then some books we read because we think we should, others arrive more circuitously. A fancy cover, or, say, a recommendation by a soccer player. We can’t read everything. A year ago I’d have said no chance I’d read an EJH novel. But being adamant doesn’t always work. Nor should it.

Nothing to do with EJH. This prunus is the only tree I've ever planted. For
VR's birthday, about fifteen years ago. It has flourished and I'm astonished
 even gratified. It's at its best now, early spring and thus I've marked it

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

Moth-eaten, toothless, deserted by his lionesses

What's afoot here?

History professor, Trinity College, Dublin: "There is a sense that with (them), unless it's written down you can't trust anything they say."

Former Dutch MEP: "A mixture of bemusement and bewilderment. On one level it's entertaining, great spectacle. A pantomime you can't stop watching... Except this isn't Monty Python."

Dutch language teacher: "We had such a close relationship... until now (when) you can't manage your own affairs. Those jokes, that posturing - it just looks silly. Irresponsible."

French commentator: "... a 'national psychodrama' or in more prosaic words 'un big mess'."

CEO of French port, Calais: "You had special conditions. You continued to drive on the left... so fundamentally insular... this is (your) destiny. But it's a pity."

Editor, Spanish newspaper: "Most people see it as chaos... (despite) a strong reputation for being disciplined and well organised."

German diplomat: "Melancholy (like) that of being dumped by a girfriend. 'I still have her jumper and I go round wearing it, hoping her scent will linger'."

Still stumped?

It is the same phenomenon that has kept me - nominally a writer in the winter of my life, keen to finish my fifth novel and desperate to outrun The Grim Reaper - lolling on the couch of an afternoon, reading The Guardian's every last tick and comma, even watching the Live Parliament TV channel, and discussing things in a low whisper with my wife.

Trump? Forget him. A mere shadow in two or six years.

Brexit, meanwhile, may cause my grandchildren's children to curse who-knows-how-many generations of English parents.

Thanks to The Guardian’s G2 Section, pp 8 – 9, “It’s like the crew of the Titanic deciding, by majority vote, that the iceberg should get out of the way.”

Monday, 11 February 2019

Hot agar

"Grandad," said Ysabelle, "Would you like an egg, a bun and a sausage-meat patty - in effect an Egg McMuffin - or bacon 'n' egg, or scrambled egg?"

I opted for the former, to show I was a man of the world and knew what an Egg McMuffin was. In the meantime, I scratched the ears of one of Y's two cats she got from the cat refuge, saying to Daniel, her partner, "Let's have the two oldest cats to help them forget the time they spent locked up."

The night before VR and I slept in Y/D's bed because it was the nicest in their house. There'd been chat about the cat-door Daniel had fashioned - through the kitchen wall since through the door was impossible.

Ysabelle, as most will know, is my granddaughter. She lives in Tavistock, way down the south-west peninsula, and this was our first visit to their new house. As a house-warming present I'd bought a lavatory brush complete with bamboo container. This complemented the fridge-freezer which didn't really count as a prezzie since it couldn't be "handed over". Oh, plus a litre of gin and two bottles of pinor noir. From Germany of all places.

A family is like a loosely linked collection of petri-dishes with visiting rights. Every so often we take a trip and check out the bacterial action in a neighbouring dish. There may be a lot or a little. For me I felt rather smug: my earlier judgments and expectations appeared to be confirmed.

Monday, 4 February 2019

A tendency to wander

I'm not given to writing about the weather - I worry it may reveal me as "a pauper spirit". (Direct quote from Henry Williamson's Dandelion Days. These days he's ignored as a writer given he was terribly impressed by the Hitler Youth. His judgment on Adolf: "essentially a good man who only wanted to build a new and better Germany")

I never saw "pauper spirit" defined so I'm saying it means lack of imagination. Since I'm at the stage of life when my imagination ebbs more than it flows I try to steer clear of banality. However the weather was cold enough a couple of days ago for me to obey VR's steely insistence - "Wear your old après-ski boots." - when I went out to pick up The Guardian.

These boots look comically clumsy but they are thermally efficient. They also have a strange tread pattern which is only hinted at in the photo. On the way back from the filling station I tried to follow the exact route I'd taken outwards but I was not alone in leaving distinctive footsteps in the snow. Was this what the snow looked like in and around Stalingrad during the siege? That got me thinking about the inappropriate clothing the troops wore during this titanic struggle. Overcoats which ceased to button up somewhere north of the wearer's waistline, much of the fabric flapping loosely and thus offering little in the way of insulation.

Soldiers - from all countries - are renowned for their grumbling. Napoleon called his lot Les Grognards and you can guess what that means. Stalingrad would be a perfect source of grumbling if you were German.  Those doing the shooting (while being shot at) are entitled to grumble as much as they like, in my view. A series of novels by the German author Hans Helmut Kirst about WW2 gets to the heart of wartime grumbling. I read them forty years ago, would they still stand up?

I'm back with The Guardian. Plenty to read (but little of it new) about Brexit.