● 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.

Sunday, 20 September 2020

Grown up but not necessarily matured

To most people, becoming adult depends solely on time passing. To those who have given the word five seconds’ thought it is defined by change: a mortgage, parenthood, taking out funeral insurance.

The concept worries me, mainly because my adolescence lasted so long I felt senility might well arrive first. Nor am I yet shut of those worries; at eighty-five I am still accused of childishness.

A scene from my youth emerged at about 5 am today. I’m still only a tea-boy at the newspaper. I have lunched in the canteen and am watching reporters who have also lunched play dominoes. There’s a technique to dominoes and a special vocabulary; the reporters are skilled in both these matters.

Clearly I am not an adult during this scene. But let’s be more specific. This is the passive part of my life wherein I merely observe. I’m sitting with the reporters because I admire their reporting skills and want to be like them. I’m also learning a little about dominoes. I also secretly admire the outward demeanour that goes with playing this game.

When it comes to girls, I don’t even dare to observe.

When I write my first article I take a first step out of passivity. When I finally become an editor, twenty years later, I am no longer passive, I impose myself. By my own professional standards I am now adult. But not in all senses. During these twenty years I have become a husband and a parent and many years are to pass before I become what I consider to be an adult parent.

“Adult” demands qualifications. A father who takes his son to Saturday soccer, rain or shine, yet is fanatical about stamp-collecting is not wholly adult. Some way to go then, but not with stamps


Saturday, 19 September 2020

Not a toss, I say

Unless you have immersed yourself in the Tour de France for sixty years, as I have,   you tend to think of it as just a long bike race. It is far more than that. More like a monstrous game of chess lasting three weeks and played on a 643,803 km2 board (ie, the area of France) where each of the 180 pieces (ie, riders) carries a unique number representing the cumulative time gap between him and the leader. The leader’s gap being, of course, zero seconds.

At any one time six or more separate stratagems between individuals and groups of individuals may be being played out. And…

But enough of that. Chances are you are now too old to understand.

Live TV coverage of the Tour, sometimes starting as early as midday, is available on ITV4, an obscure channel I never otherwise visit, Here’s my confession: I watch the whole stage each day, a glorious benison of retirement.

Neighbours and acquaintances erect new fences, order house extensions, garden til the sun goes down, experiment with cakes, moan about being separated from their family, and even go for bike rides. I loll on the couch, read The Guardian during the commercials and avidly follow each tiny variation in the state of the race. Assisted by a six-man team of expert and wholly articulate multi-linguistic commentators. As France’s natural beauty – lovingly caught by helicoptered cameras  - unscrolls on the screen.

This inertia is bad for me. It’s probably shortening my life. I should be up and erect, doing things that have visible conclusions and are approved by society in general. Frankly, I don’t give a toss. VR also watches. My daughters loved seeing part of a stage for real in 2018.

Not a toss, I say.

Monday, 14 September 2020

Gone with the wind

What exactly is conversation?

Three times a year I’d take a train to Paddington, cross London, and meet my pal, Joe Hyam, at a scruffy curry restaurant on the Aldwych. We’d lunch, then move to a pub across the Thames. We’d start talking promptly at 12.30 pm and only cease at about 6.30 pm when I took the tube back to Paddington and thence the train to Hereford.

We conversed, I suppose, so the end result must have been a conversation. Joe died in March 2014 so those lengthy, noisy, often impassioned exchanges are now an aural blur.  The subjects would have been obvious since they were all shared: blogging, books, France, magazine editorship. Yet not a single strand remains in my memory banks. Hence my initial question. It’s as if making conversation came close to the creation of a fishing net – a mass of holes encircling emptiness and tied together with string.

From more than a dozen lunches and boozing sessions, nothing! One exception: I’d just started writing sonnets and tended to fill up my iambic pentameter with over-long, polysyllabic words. Was this a failing I asked Joe, a poetry expert. No, he said, and we switched to other things.

I could of course consult the posts I wrote at the time but that’s not the point. Why the void? One reason might be the talk was fast and intense. We spoke for the moment not for posterity. Also, it was like a relay race – pass the baton and it came back a different shape. It’s a big claim but I may fairly say our chat was original. Both of us regarded cliché as a sin against the human spirit.

All gone, except it seemed worthwhile at the time. And I for one looked forward to it.

Saturday, 5 September 2020

Love without anchovies

A cautionary fable of modern times – quite short - set in a fictional part of France and populated by residents whose existence and situation are the sole product of the author’s imagination, with some explanatory detail to assist non-Francophone readers

 M. Prénom and Mme Sans-Couleur had been adulterously attached for fifteen years. Each year they dined out to celebrate their marital wickedness but this year they would be avoiding Le Restaurant au Bon Courage. Their respective spouses – irritated by their continuing absences – had formed their own adulterous relationship and had booked the Bon Courage two months beforehand. M Prénom and Mme Sans-Couleur could foresee problems about which couple got which table and had reluctantly chosen the only alternative, Le Jazz, a pizzeria which had so far attracted zero reviews in Trip Advisor.

Le Jazz was located in the centre of a Zone Industriel which meant driving. In fact neither ever walked anywhere so choosing which car was a recurrent problem. Both had Citroens but Mme Sans-Couleur had persuaded her husband to buy her one with a slightly more powerful engine.

“It has a motor with an extra seventy-five centimetres cubed,” she said winningly. “It is more chic, chérie. Also it has a radio.”

M. Prénom gave in. He usually did. But who would drive, given that a more draconian version of the Suppression of Public Drunkenness law had recently been introduced. There were rumours – probably facetious – that the Ile du Diable prison in French Guiana was to be re-opened for extreme offenders.

“I will drive,” said Mme Sans-Couleur. “And I will drink only one glass of wine.”

“But this is a celebration. Where is human equality in that?”

Mme Sans-Couleur tentatively suggested one glass of wine, shared between them.

“Yes,” said M. Prénom, “but we must fill up our half-glasses of wine with water. To prove our gaiety.”

They both agreed, knowing that red wine at Le Jazz was bought directly from the supermarket at €3.99 a bottle and the mark-up was a mere 25%. That they would, as usual, drink four bottles of red and drive back in drunken stupor with the headlights turned off.

A Zone Industriel is an industrial zone

The Zone Industriel had never really caught on and the only occupants were three companies, all near bankruptcy, devoted to processing used car tyres. A piercing smell overhung the area and Mme Sans-Couleur insisted on what she called “la route touristique” even though it quadrupled the three-kilometre drive. They arrived at Le Jazz twenty minutes late but this was of no consequence since the only other diner was a local character known familiarly as Le Clochard (The Drunk) who, in effect, hired a pizza and left it to grow cold, allowing him to order an unending sequence of house reds.

“He adds character,” whispered Mme Sans-Couleur gaily. But with character came body odour and they took a table as far away as possible, even though this brought them uncomfortably close to the pizza oven.

Le Jazz didn’t really do starters. They rejected the paté, ominously unchristened,  and, after some debate, the Regional Plate which consisted of three gherkins, three cocktail onions and a wizened tomato. A €1 supplement proclaimed the Chef’s Salad and this seemed a favourable omen. True it included two curled slices of salami and a clump of oily greenery finally identified as artichoke heart. But at the centre was the French restaurant trade’s ultimate insult to diners of any nationality: a triangular metal foil package containing a whitish cheese-flavoured paste and labelled La Vache Qui Rit.

“What do you think the cow was laughing at?” asked Mme Sans-Couleur, her gaiety undimmed.

M. Prénom recognised the need to share his partner’s good humour. It was after all a celebration. “I will add the phrase to your climax.”

He didn’t often refer to their physical antics and Mme Sans-Couleur’s jaw dropped slightly. Then she smiled bravely. “Ah, my brave knight.”

In France a flank steak is called a bavette

Neither enjoyed pizza and they opted for flank steak, printed in a discouragingly small typeface on the laminated menu. This visibly angered the patron’s wife acting as waitress and they both averted their eyes as the equally angry patron wrenched open the door of the freezer and rattled among the mini-icebergs probably untouched for half a year. Both M. Prénom and Mme Sans-Couleur were capable of being embarrassed, given their irregular sexual arrangements, but by now they were already into their second bottle of red and a certain fatalism had descended. Less than prompt service seemed inevitable but there was no reason why they should limit themselves to four bottles of wine.

M. Prénom looked fondly at his lover, slightly surprised that his ardour had lasted as long as it had. Fifteen years! Not bad at all; there were times at home when he had to remind himself he was actually married to the solemn churchgoer he shared the house with. He had been drawn to Mme Sans-Couleur by her cherubic face but this attraction would have hardly lasted a year if it hadn’t been for her willingness to spend a great deal of her husband’s money on clothing. Each occasion they met she wore something different. He found this strangely exciting, perhaps because these fashionable garments were so easy to remove. Today she wore a white two-piece with navy blue trim; the jacket secured by a single, large padded button offering all the facility of a garage door. The sheath skirt must be held at the waist with built-in elastic, he felt sure. So convenient.

“You out-class Le Jazz, my dear,” he said, taking hold of her fierily manicured hand.

“I would rather hope so,” she said with glowing sincerity. “But I’m with you - "

 French “caff” owners don’t willingly do cocktails

The latter sentence, which had started so promisingly, was fated never to end. The pizzeria’s rackety door burst inwards to admit M. Sans-Couleur, the new lover of Mme. Prénom. Greatly stressed, he barked, “Table for two?” and the patron nodded resignedly. The flank steak had only just thawed. M. Sans-Couleur shrank with relief, glanced around and noticed M. Prénom for the first time. It should have been a moment of profound sexual tension but M. Sans-Couleur had obviously been confronting other, more pressing, demons. “Bon Courage had forgotten my reservation. I shall sue them in the courts. Meanwhile Le Jazz is my only hope. I trust we may be civilised about this.”

M. Prénom glanced at Mme Sans-Couleur. “Of course,” she said, “but we shall be leaving quite soon.” A coded message to the patron to be less languid.

M. Sans-Couleur bustled out of the pizzeria and returned with Claudette, M. Prénom’s neglected wife. A tiny shaft of pain traversed the regions of his husbandly stomach when he saw Claudette was wearing a wafty full-length dress – could it really be Versace? – he had no idea she owned. Where had she found the money? Not from M. Sans-Couleur who was notoriously mean. M. Prénom’s mind flitted through meals he had eaten at home over the past year; had there been economies which had saved the necessary cash? But then Claudette had always been a lousy cook and any shortfall would not have been noticed.

Nods were thought appropriate greeting under the circumstances and for several seconds the gathering resembled a Japanese art-house movie. In a loud voice M. Sans-Couleur ordered two gins-and tonic and was rewarded with a look of pure venom by the patron.

You pay local taxes at the Trésor Publique

Their two tables were consecutively positioned and it was quickly evident that even the most furtively whispered conversation would be audible. This led to briskly clear exchanges about absolutely nothing: car service intervals, rudeness at the Trésor Publique and PSG’s inexplicable inability to score goals. Despite the banality of this talk maintaining the flow proved exhausting and an increased consumption of red wine.

Finally, and quite accidentally, Mme Sans Couleur averred that petunias made perfect bedding plants and Claudette’s eyebrows – plucked for the occasion – rose in thin arches. From then on the two women were lost to gardening babble and the hosts could sit back in silence and drink even more heavily.

When M. Prénom finally paid his bill (the others were still waiting for their flank steaks) the two men wished each other a gruff “Au ’voir” and the two women nodded, smiling with horticultural fervour.

Mme Sans-Couleur sat motionless at the Citroen’s steering wheel, perhaps waiting until the nearest of the three tyre-processing plants stopped rotating in space. Now she started the engine. “You know, chérie, they will be ages. We would have time to visit our little nest.”

It took M. Prénom a while to acknowledge the meal they had just eaten was intended to celebrate physical needs they had sated over the years with each other. His mind was on other things, or one thing in particular. That dress! Its style. Its cost. Its mysterious acquisition. And the way it had hugged Claudette’s derrière over a contour he’d never known existed. He kissed Mme Sans-Couleur with more force than he’d intended, dimly aware of a decision he might well articulate quite soon.

“Alas choufleur*, the wine. Rather too much of it. Next week, I promise, we will make love.”

 *   Cauliflower 

Monday, 31 August 2020

"Could do better"

Subsequent to previous post, Avus asked for written examples that suggest my writing has improved during the last 60 years..

Intermittent diary, Bingley office, Bradford and District Newspapers. Aged 18 -20.

● Journalism is a badly organised business. A good deal of the day I sit in idleness, yet am often working until 10 at night. If I tell this to a non-journalist, he or she says “Ah, but you enjoy your job.”

Do I? Doesn’t anybody else like theirs?

Faults: “business” is unnecessary. “am working” is ugly. Second sentence could be reduced by half.  Ending with personal pronoun is flabby

● Calling on Mrs X for a par (ie, info for short news story) I perceived the light of triumph in her eyes. Apparently Y (the X’s bean-pole daughter) had seen me at the local cinema with M (my first ever girl-friend). Mrs X’s attitude seemed to be that she had scored a personal triumph over me. While the light was still in Mrs X’s eyes, Y came in and took up the assault. I could say nothing and had to leave the house seething with rage.

The Xs are typical Bingley Methodists and constitute a good deal of the reason why Bingley, its environs and its inhabitants, get me down. I shall always remember them by the following words of Mrs X, referring to a Methodist minister who, with an invalid wife and a speech impediment, had given his life to Methodism (I think) and had fallen ill.

Mrs X’s comment was that he (the minister) had been lying ill for some months now and while they were not getting anything out of him they were still having to pay him.

Faults. “triumph” is repeated, weakening a good anecdote.. Difficult for reader to make out what “took up the assault” means. Grates my teeth: “by the following words of”. Very windy passage: “… and constitute a good deal, etc, etc…” 

● On Weds, Thurs, Friday and Sat mornings I have been to the doctor about an enormous boil on my thigh and I have been having to make up time (ie, visiting regular news sources) afterwards. I became detached about the boil and apart from the pain I watched everything that went on. The latter three mornings I received penicillin injections, one by Leslie, two by Mitchell. Leslie slides the needle into my arm gently while M. drops it in and, if it bounces, drops it again.

Faults: Clumsy list to begin with. I’m ashamed of “have been having” - suggesting I never read what I’d written. “Detached” is poorly chosen, thus “apart from the pain” becomes vague. I am, however, quite proud of the final sentence.

Saturday, 29 August 2020

Normal, does it exist?

Once we feared The Plague, wore masks self-consciously, became irritated, then bored. Some yearn for what was normal, calling it New Normal, cheating somewhat. New normal wouldn’t be normal.

Normal has distinct meanings. The primary one (conforming to or constituting a norm, rule or principle) is presently the least relevant. Nor is the secondary meaning (free from mental disorder) exactly in the forefront of our minds. And how about: having average intelligence or development?

I’m not sure I’d want to be average at anything. Being one of the herd? I’d rather be bad at whatever it was. Table manners, for instance

I’ve been retired for twenty-five years, long enough to regard retirement as normal. This is far from the case. Retirement is freedom if not always taken up. To think or write about something (occasionally even to do something) and then to go into the bedroom and lie on top of the duvet, eyes closed. Experiencing the sun. Wasting time by most standards.

But for 44½ years I worked. Even that wasn’t truly consistent. When I was young I got up reluctantly, later I willingly rose at 06.50. To begin with I did what others told me to do, later (as editor) I dictated my own working day. Holidays varied: I ski-ed in the Alps, I snorkelled off the Brittany cost.

Writing was a continuous thread. I even wrote short stories while doing National Service. On train journeys. Gradually I improved although this process consisted mainly of being aware of what to avoid. It isn’t boastful when I say I write better than I did. Early examples still exist for comparison. I could show you.

And writing isn’t just writing, it becomes the tool of intelligence. An aid to analysis, to expression. Abnormal things. 

Thursday, 27 August 2020

Can do, might do, do do


Over the decades two people close to me have died of motor neurone disease – horrible deaths. Last night I watched a TV programme about a British scientist suffering from MND and alleviating things with advanced technology. It threw up an important observation.

The scientist spoke to another sufferer, the theoretical physicist, Stephen Hawking (Liza Simpson: “The world’s smartest man” – but it’s not that quote.). Hawking advised: “Think about the things you can do, not the things you can’t.”

In infinitely more mundane circumstances I did just that. We’ve had a birthday in the family, whose doesn’t matter. The Plague prevented physical assembly so we Skyped. Nothing new about that, we’ve family-Skyped – three times a week – for several months now.

But you can’t just say we’ll have a good chat and expect it to happen. Fatigue, grumpiness, anxiety to watch qualifying for the Hungarian GP may all undermine that aim. But more often than not someone starts a hare (A metaphorical hare, that is. I’m anti-bloodsports.) and the rest join the chase. Ysabelle and Daniel had just bought a car; they detailed their negotiations and the whole thing became hilarious.

Who’d have thought it? In fact everyone should have done. We’re a family, a group of individuals each with stories to tell. That’s a huge information base for a start. But members of families interact and that multiplies the possibilities n-fold – where n is a large number. Yes we could have got raucous on drink at some watering hole but the hell with that. Instead we created a successful social occasion with what we had.

A trivial achievement compared with the heroic scientist (Peter: The Human Cyborg. Channel 4). But we must all lead our own lives. Consider what you can do. In short, don’t be defeated