● Lady Percy moves me - might she move you? CLICK TO FIND OUT
● Plus my novels, stories, verse, vulgar interests, apologies, and singing.
● Most posts are 300 words. I respond to all comments/re-comments.
● See Tone Deaf in New blogger.

Thursday, 8 April 2021

Plaudits for calculus (and YouTube)


Mostly I’ve done without social media. Facebook, which I joined for twenty minutes, proved to be spawn of the devil, Twitter for those who wanted to be a writer but without doing any writing, while Instagram sounded so old-fashioned I felt I’d outgrown it. YouTube is different.

During my early singing lessons YouTube led me to pros singing songs I’d just started on; extracts from US TV political comment during the Trump years; clips of motorbike races I wish I’d seen; brilliant stand-up by Bill Bailey, Eddie Izzard and Dylan Moran; history rendered in fuzzy b&w. Plus graphic answers to a hundred questions which had flashed through my mind over the years.

Meanwhile YouTube was getting to know me, understanding what interested me, predicting what might interest me. And – eerily - getting it right.

Take maths. It fascinates me but I only scratched the surface thanks to eight months’ technical education in the RAF. Somehow I must have unconsciously leaked this fascination and it ended up in YouTube’s catchment net.

When you switch on YouTube you get a different set of offerings each day. This morning they included Understanding Calculus in Ten Minutes. At no time have I raised this subject with YouTube and yet it knew I would be ensnared.

I’d touched on calculus in the RAF relative to hysteresis curves but without knowing what it was for. This guy told me its rationale and within the allotted time. It’s true, it can be simplified.

Was I worried that an algorithm knew more about me than I did? Not a bit. Otherwise I’d worry about my doctor. I’ve profited and it’s difficult imagining it happening any other way. What’s more it was the truth.

The calculus website had attracted 4.5m visits. That pleases me


Saturday, 3 April 2021

Covid oddity

WHENCE THE PAIN? Thousands of vaccinations have been filmed for TV; not a single person flinched as the needle went in. How so? I can remember injections I received in what my kids call “the often times” which were distinctly painful. Especially in the RAF. Were they using garden hose?

UNREAD People are reading less in these infected times. Nobody, but nobody, has admitted – to the TV cameras at least – that self-isolation offers a wonderful opportunity to turn to books. Perhaps everyone’s a library-goer: libraries shut, minds shut to print.

EGG GONE VR bought me an Easter egg, a first in sixty years of marriage. “It was cheap,” she said. I saw why. The sweeties (Americans call them candy) were separately wrapped and not entombed in the chocolate shell. I wrote a thoughtful piece on the PC, occasionally breaking off bits of choco-shell. Suddenly it had disappeared.

Like snow upon the desert’s dusty face,
Lighting a little hour or two – is gone

It’s easy to become a Rubaiyat bore.

IMMOBILISM The terms of my car insurance state I will not exceed 10,000 miles annually. Fat chance! The policy is in its fourth/fifth year and the odometer reads 36,658. Covid has been good for cars. Male neighbours – clearly non-readers – desperate for digressions soap their cars weekly. Their minds blank (Whoops! Some do read and their minds are far from blank).

BEFLOWERED A neighbour, with his grandson, has tidied up our garden. For ready cash. I’m not a tea-drinker but brought out mugs every hour, revelling in not having to pull out the weeds. Primroses, released from a rubbishy jungle, have flourished. If only I could spray the horticultural newness with some kind of lacquer, ensuring it stayed like this for eternity.

WRETCHED SCRITCHERS Cutting toe-nails in old age. A massive DIY tome could be written. I contort… and fail.

Tuesday, 30 March 2021

In sweet music is such art:
killing care and grief of heart

An earlier - abortive - attempt to link our home
to the online version of the film festival
involved this dongle-ish device. Don't you
agree it sort of resembles a poisonous snake?

In old age small difficulties get bigger. I drop a spoon while drying-up and curse inordinately. I wear my downstairs glasses upstairs in my study and am irritated. I forget The Guardian voucher and must, in effect, buy the newspaper twice. Also I am left scarred by techno preparation for watching the Borderlines Film Festival online at home. Instead of in village halls, as previously.

More scarred than I imagined. On Monday I’m waiting at my computer for my Skyped singing lesson to start and my stomach churns. I’m scared, as if I were about to face an audience. Worse, I cannot believe music will comfort me.

Betrayed by my body, my mind and my experiences. For more than five years I have progressed as a singer, exhilarated by creating music, triumphant at managing this most difficult art in my eighties. Proof I can adapt. Yet now…

For at least half an hour I bombard V, my teacher, with my doubts. Not a note is sung. V lives alone and has her own problems but she’s dealt with this kind of thing. She listens and talks, but no word of conventional sympathy; nothing futile like “It will be all right”.

The warm-up no longer consists of repeated scales. Instead, six-note songs, often in a minor key, which V improvises and I copy. Some so lovely they ought to be recorded. Then we’re back to a 2018 lesson and Purcell’s glorious EVENING HYMN. Simple sounding, and difficult as hell. But I’ve always embraced it. And V knows it will embrace me. 

Hallelujahs ring out. V’s dog, Floss, barks to join in and we laugh about that afterwards. I am calmed and strengthened by:

Now. Now that the sun has veiled his light
And bid the world good night... 

And comforted

Thursday, 25 March 2021

On scribble

Verse for looking back on the pandemic

Again, again, slow-flowing afternoons,
The sun a drug, the Morris coffee mug
At risk between my cumbrous finger-tips:
I dare not break it now, so late in life.

The Gard(y)an strewn, both front and back,
Absorbed, as on a soporific tide
I’m eased towards the shallow bays of sleep,
Wherein I’ll wake and reckon I’m seduced.

But earlier that day a different world,
A conflict of familiarity,
L’s novel which I felt I had to write,
Concerns a woman with a tale to tell.

Those gristle words, I’ve chewed them endlessly,
They may have lost all juice they ever had,
All novelty, all chance of dark surprise,
Chanting a dirge of dull uncertainty.

And yet, and yet, L is my gift, my love,
She strives as I strive for some clarity, 
Too strong, too quick to simply fade away,
Too permanent within my hollow skull.

Outside there’s Plague but I am armoured now,
And I may doze or write a line of prose
Or find a rhyme as lo! I find I’ve done,
Or, evening time, pour out some pricey booze.

I’m lucky, and that’s not always the case
With age, more like a vacancy.
But I have sunned and worked this word machine
And passed some time in staying – well! – alive.

Sunday, 21 March 2021

Someone else can fill in the blanks

On Friday we had our second jab. The next day our will drafts arrived for final approval. The former prolonging life, the latter a clear-sighted reminder that lives don’t last for ever.

The previous wills were more than twenty years old; in the interim a grandchild had been born. You gotta adjust. Not least to the march of technology and to the pandemic.

The solicitor offered us preliminary communication by Zoom. I’m a Skype man but it had to be Zoom. VR’s hearing isn’t what it was and so I bought more powerful loudspeakers and a webcam to go with her laptop. Neither worked as they should and the solicitor improvised by combining his mobile with his computer. An agreeable youngish guy with one of those jaw-outline beards.

Resolving the laptop problem involved a re-set; the equivalent of removing a human brain and re-shaping it to fit. It worked and I’m as proud of that as anything during Covid-19.

Wills remind us that one will die before the other. And that this isn’t a time for euphemism. We’ll die, not “pass on” nor “be translated into glory”. And since death – for us – consists of a full stop (US: period) followed by an infinity of empty pages there’ll be no “loved one” smiling down approvingly. During these final months the trick seems to be to live in the present; to summarise or reconstruct the past but without emotion. Did we use the time well? More important: did we discover things?

VR and I argue agreeably about funeral music. I did favour the great trio from Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte; now I lean towards Janet Baker singing Brahms’ Alto Rhapsody except it’s 13 minutes long and might people fidget? But it’s the last one standing who gets to choose. Conflagration is cheaper.

Friday, 19 March 2021

Trying not to be obvious

 I continue to play the sage. Saying new things (if possible) in a new way. 

Why? Because unthinking worn phrases and tired greetings risk being ignored

We have a celebration coming up. The family will foregather on Skype, the ultimate form of social distancing. “But it’s not the same as giving someone a hug,” people whinge. No, but you learn things.

Patience, for instance. If conversations overlap nobody hears what’s said. You wait your turn and – mayhap – you refine what you have to say. Drop the clich├ęs; incline towards the truth.

There may be eight of us. Waiting, one has ample time to watch faces known all their lives. Our elder daughter, aged three, wearing a blue cardigan (a garment that seems to recur in our dilapidated photo albums) and waving a pickled egg pierced by a table-fork. Younger daughter weeping copious tears for no good reason; it was a period she was passing through.

Now they’re pushing middle age. They know about money, are outspoken about politics, have musical tastes that are alien to me. Both desperate for France in July, fearing it won’t happen, joking about alternatives in the UK (“Lincolnshire would be peaceful but it’s oh so flat.”)

Families break up into mini-island families. It’s to be applauded. The parents have done their bit – it’s to be hoped – and must fade into oblivion. The mini-islands are now real islands, integrated and self-supporting; the parents staring at faces that appear mysteriously to have grown up.

With luck nostalgia will be kept at bay. It’s a disease, an abnegation of the future. The golden eras are all in the present, a revelling in the power of thought and an ability to time travel without stirring. Future Skypes will be “smellies”; see Aldous Huxley.

Wednesday, 17 March 2021

It's more than a herb

One reason why life's indistinct.
Below: Once they were slip-on
casuals, now kind of depraved

I intend to become a sage.

My hair (uncut since late summer) fits this new role as does wearing shoes past their prime and my refusal to change into cleaner clothes.

You protest! Being a sage demands wisdom, deep wells of knowledge, sympathy for others and an air of tranquillity. My blog is immediate proof I lack all these qualities and more. Too true.

But sages are best known for saying things which appear in dictionaries of quotations centuries later. Aphorisms, apophthegms, “sayings” in fact. I thought I’d take that route.

Forget wisdom, aim to be quotable. Say things others aren’t saying. And what better opportunity than during a pandemic?

What are people saying about covid-19? The usual stuff. That they’re bored, afraid, lonely, frustrated, condemnatory of politicians, unable to cope with life, hating those who form crowds and go drinking, worrying ceaselessly about TV “repeats”.

Some might be fibbing. If there were no covid-19 and it simply rained for a few days would they behave differently? Might many people – especially those who are retired like the Robinsons – be unwilling to admit that covid-19 wasn’t affecting them half as much as they belly-ached? And were ashamed about this?

Saying one: Covid’s like normal but with more TV coverage.

Through the windows we watch the movements of our neighbours. What’s going on in their noggins? What are their motives?

Saying two: Covid’s DIY psychoanalysis. Happily cheaper.

The incidence of covid death among Trump-believers must surely be higher than among normal folk. Yet they remain fearless

Saying three: Trump’s 2024 campaign will feature suicide-bombers.

London’s a great place to live but it costs a lot. And not just in cash terms. Togetherness could kill you.

Saying four: Typical Londoner: Watch the wimps moving to the ‘burbs.