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.