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.


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

Pathological?

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.