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● Plus my novels, stories, verse, vulgar interests, apologies, and singing.
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Sunday 30 September 2012

The way we were - and are

Time like an ever-rolling stream
Bears all its sons away
They fly forgotten as a dream
Dies at the opening day.

October 3 – 14, 1960. Weather: Stair-rods throughout. Mode of transport: My mother’s Lambretta scooter. Directional aid: Atlas in the back of a diary. Geographic spread: The Forest of Dean (Be careful about the hob-goblins, said my Dad), Fishguard (Almost the extreme western tip of Pembrokeshire, South Wales), Woodbastwick (On the Norfolk Broads – which are areas of water not viable women). Kings Lynn (Southern corner of The Wash. Reason for going there: unknown). Budget: About £100, all in.

September 29, 2012. Weather: Glorious. Mode of transport: Skoda saloon with TDI diesel engine (54 mpg) and six-speed auto/manual gearbox). Directional aid: New TomTom satnav. Geographic spread: Cheltenham, Gloucestershire (Reason for going: Le Champignon Sauvage). Budget: Up to £8000; actual spend: accommodation £130, booze £135, food £109.

What does this 52-year gap say about the RRs? That once we were marginal members of society; now, still marginal, we nevertheless spend cash willy-nilly. That we were hardier then than now. More adventurous. Less vulgar about money. That a 2004 Louis Jadot Vosne Romanée is a good bet if you’re into red Burgundy. That we can still remember dates, notably 1/10/1960. That we are not, nor ever will be, acutely sentimental. That I at least prefer ellipticism.

Friday 28 September 2012

A case of Taisez vous!

We all tend to show off when writing. And novels provide a huge opportunity. Having scanned my novel, Blest Redeemer, in draft Plutarch asked if I wasn’t overdoing the French phrases? Was un mauvais quart d’heure (literally: a bad quarter of an hour; idiomatically: an unpleasant experience) necessary given that the scene wasn’t set in France? I agreed and substituted.

In 1921 they did things differently. Aldous Huxley’s novel, Crome Yellow, is not only stuffed with unexplained French (and Italian) material but includes several untranslated stanzas of a French folk song. Did readers simply skip these passages back then or were they all polyglots?

My second novel, Risen on Wings, is set in France and the French language is one of the characters. In revising the MS recently I displayed all the French in italics and now the pages have an accusatory look. Suppose it had been set in Russia? Perhaps the book will go down well in Bordeaux.

BEETHOVEN’S violin concerto is a violent, heart-wringing piece of music. Mrs RR and I heard it yet again recently, with the Latvian conductor Andris Nelsons directing the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and another Latvian, Baibe Skride (a woman), sawing the fiddle. What was unusual was Skride’s comparatively limited dynamic range (ie, softest to loudest) which meant that many melodic lines ended very, very quietly.

And very beautifully. However she was lucky in her choice of venue. Symphony Hall in Birmingham, a modern building, has wonderful acoustics and this was the first of many concerts I’ve heard there that proved this claim without doubt. Allowing us to appreciate Skride’s solid tone down there pianississimo. Even better it discouraged those with chronic lung disease from showing their prowess. 

Wednesday 26 September 2012

Plenty of hair, too much nose

I’ve been told it’s time I showed off my Rhine barge captain’s cap. Here it is, but more prominent is my Roman emperor’s nose. In profile its outline appears to be a continuation of my forehead. Previously I’d always reckoned my nose to be the only worthwhile feature of my face. Now I realise this was a delusion and my looks are encapsulated in a well-known hymn:

Change and decay
In all around I see
Oh, Thou who changeth not
Abide with me.

I had in mind to re-shoot this pic since that bulky redness couldn’t surely all be me. Alas it is. Thus, as my Grannie said, it is better to tell the truth and shame the Devil. So publish and be damned.

I am seen contemplating my two brothers, down in Hereford for a short visit. Non-blogging Nick, in the centre, is not well but I was intensely moved to see him, to talk to him. Con, who blogs as Sir Hugh, had done a monster chauffeuring job, setting off from Arnside on the fringe of the Lake District, driving east over the Pennines, picking up Nick from Harrogate in North Yorkshire then down south of the city of Hereford where I live.

On such occasions one scrabbles about in the shared past. Our father – half uncaring parent, half satyr, half curiosity – figured prominently. Profoundly deaf he compensated with a very sharp mind and left a trail of worthwhile quotes behind. Most of them require a context and I’d be underselling him if I reproduced them baldly. He was unpopular in different ways with all three of us, but his death and our advancing age tends to soften the memories.

Mrs RR and I had a bottle of Taittinger awaiting a worthwhile occasion. Last night fitted the bill.

Saturday 22 September 2012

Cakes and the nature of truth

The RRs suffer many afflictions, but rarely boredom. Books are always close to hand. Mrs RR, for instance, reads all the way to the south of France in the car when we go on holiday. I can read and write on all forms of public transport. But it was daytime, the road from Hereford to Worcester is a delight and we were highly perched on bus seats, taking in the view. And talking.

“What is the most photogenic cake you make?” I asked. Fifty-plus years of marriage have taught Mrs RR to treat my unexpected questions as potential snares. Having decided this could be taken at face value she averred it might well be Victoria sponge.

One reason for this post is that participle “averred”. I have never written it before.

Photogenic cakes had been on my mind for a while. Dimly I recall one cake where multi-coloured lumps of crystallised fruit are cast into the mix. The slices look like sections of mosaic. The name escapes me, as it does Lucy. At least she failed to respond when I asked.

An eternal verity flitted through my mind. Externally, many cakes resemble each other. To get the best of a cake, photographically, you have to remove a slice. This had never previously occurred to me and I felt a tiny thrill of discovery. Empirical proof is provided above.

Back home it seemed inevitable that Mrs RR should bake a cake. I watched. One anti-photogenic element is the glacé cherry given its tendency to sink. I Googled for solutions, printed out the answers and showed them to Mrs RR. She said they were rubbish. The Victoria sponge emerged. I like it but not as much as seed cake which, due to the tininess of the caraway seeds, is non-photogenic. Can’t have everything. 

Thursday 20 September 2012

More help needed

Plutarch is presently writing short short stories. I don't understand the short story rationale, don't read them by choice. Is this one? I don't know. It's 377 words long which is, sort of, cheating


The pensioners hadn’t much money; he drove them to the Welsh coast, more often to Blackpool, occasionally Whitby. Coming back they sang old-fashioned songs like Lambeth Walk and teased him when he pulled in to service stations. “Does the driver want a wee-wee?” they asked. When the collection box went down the aisle it came back with a scattering of 20 p pieces. But he didn’t mind. With them he was supporting a tradition.

Football fans were noisier and hung their scarves out of the bus windows. They drank lager and their high spirits made it difficult to tell whether their team had won or lost. Occasionally one would be sick and others would use The Sun to wipe it up. Then there’d be a couple of fivers in the box. They didn’t seem to know real tunes: sang parts of pop songs, ad jingles and chants they used during the game. Football didn’t interest him but he liked their enthusiasm.

Kids? He’d always liked kids. They mimicked each other, sometimes cleverly. Others stared out as if seeing the promised land.

It was this lot he hated. Older than pensioners, but the men dressed in suits or proper tweed jackets. The women’s white hair carefully arranged, well-worn rings on their fingers.  At six they opened Sainsbury bags-for-life and took out Tupperware boxes. Unpacked tomato sandwiches wrapped in film and held them between thumb and forefinger as they ate. Those without Thermoses drank Malvern water, tipping the bottle into their mouths, never encircling the neck with their lips.

Returning, they rarely talked about what they’d seen. But they did talk, endlessly. About their dogs and cats, restaurants and the perfection of their grandchildren. Some dozed, others asked him to enable the overhead lights so that they could read – often, hardbacks.

He disliked their restraint. As if they were only half alive. He suspected they disapproved of what he liked but would never say so. The collection box revealed single pounds from each of them. They knew all about tipping.

Sweeping out the bus at the depot he picked up a discarded ticket which had cost £28.50. Elsewhere a programme revealed his passengers had heard music pitched in D minor. He wondered if any of them knew what that meant.

Tuesday 18 September 2012

Oh for a closer walk with retailing

Know what this is? First, it’s a bad photo – a Tone Deaf speciality. Here the words coruscate, not the pix.

Give up? It’s a sweet onion. Thin slices of which were lain on my new lunchtime preference: toast with tuna paté. But sweet onions are rarish in Herefordshire and it’s proof we were elsewhere this morning. Waitrose.

For foreigners who browse at TD I need to explain. Waitrose is a supermarket chain, but then the moon’s a celestial body. A seven-minute walk from Ch. Robinson brings us to Tesco, another supermarket. We shop there to sustain life. We shop at Waitrose to enhance life. Waitrose is twenty-five miles away.

Other stuff bought this morning. Six bottles of dry oloroso, a dark, deep-flavoured sherry normally sweetish. This one’s like Christmas pudding for adults: dry enough for a subtle aperitif.

Pain au raisin made with Charente butter. Had I held mine in my fingers and blown on the pastry it would have eroded and drifted away like autumn leaves.

Chard, Charente carrots, Welsh new potatoes. Quilted toilet paper (on offer) – for we must not ignore the mundane.

Once, years ago at another Waitrose, we bought a Welsh lamb crown roast. It may have been the most intensely flavoured cut of meat I have ever eaten.

Right-wing Republicans in the USA who believe Obama is planting rampant Socialism there should be made to shop at Waitrose for a week. Proof not only that Socialism works but is desirable. All Waitrose employees are shareholders in their employer. They’re invariably pleasant to customers, as well they might; each gets a large bonus, annually.

One black mark. They used to sell Teisin Lap, a spicy Welsh cake. Now they’ve dropped it. As Joe E. Brown said: Nobody’s perfect.

Monday 17 September 2012

I'm still not joking

Recording Risen on Wings professionally would, I thought, cost a bomb. How about an atomic bomb?  £9995 plus VAT! VAT kills you with another £2k. Other irons are heating up.

Plutarch believes an actor’s unnecessary, no doubt recalling over-wrought poetry by Stratfordians keen to emote. I’m not so sure. Pursuing yet another solitary vice I recorded some RoW myself and discovered a huge difference between fiction and straight prose – or poetry for that matter. Fiction has dialogue and you’ve got two choices: scatter he said/she said throughout or create separate voices. After a while I started learning how to do this. Keeping it up for 120,000 words is another matter.

Plutarch is in favour of a woman doing the reading, as am I. But says she doesn’t have to be American. Jana is an Arizonan and her view of France is (I hope) consonant with that. A US accent might help minimise the author’s Englishness and remain detached from France’s Frenchness. Not a must, then, but interesting.

Plutarch recommends a good clear voice. The studio whose quote disturbed me offers samples from a dozen women with US voices. If anything they were over-clear, most having majored on TV commercial voice-overs. After a while I found myself yearning for restraint. Of the two I chose one was born in South Africa though had worked in the USA. Shows what I know.

I’ve only pondered this project for a day or two. More questions arise. How easy it to follow a novel read aloud? BBC’s Radio 3 does plenty but often they’re abridged. Does this make a difference? I do have a 22-CD complete version of Ulysses but that owes a lot to a brilliant Irish actor (Jim Norton).

Saturday 15 September 2012

This time I'm not joking

Took a call yesterday from Nick, my younger, non-blogging brother. Nick isn’t in good health and such calls are rare - as I might add, to my shame, are calls in the other direction.

He apologises for wasting my time as if my time were more valuable than his. I reassure him but it’s no use; that’s his way. He’s phoning to chat (albeit briefly) and I take the portable upstairs and lie on the bed. Soon I’ll get to talk about sailing, something he introduced me to late in life and which affected me enormously. There we are, above, in happier times. He’s in blue.

But it’s not sailing. Conrad (Sir Hugh), our middle brother has been telling him about a book I’ve written: about flying, in France. It sounds interesting, Nick says. His kind of subject. He’d like to read it but admits his eyes are going and this would be difficult. I am, as our mother would say, heart-slufted.

I should add: I never ask my nearest and dearest to read my stuff. But if they ask they can. Conrad asked.

I say I’ll investigate getting someone to read it, create a recording. Nick says that would be nice and rings off. I reflect. I need an acting voice (I’m anti-amateur), it’ll take hours and will cost a bomb. I don’t care. It’s the least I can do. The ideal reader would be an American woman, like the central character. An American voice would catch the resonances. But one which can handle the French words and the poetry.

Mrs RR tells me not to be finicky. But this is the Internet and I’ve access to worldwide resources.

Can you hear me out there? Please respond.

Thursday 13 September 2012

RR sets out his stall - again

My current desktop photo, above, covers three major interests: rock climbing (a practice long since abandoned), high school physics and the curious nature of being a woman. Click pic to enlarge.

This is advanced climbing demanding great strengths. Imagine climbing the wall of your living room and then climbing (The verb is no longer apt: proceeding?) across the underneath of the ceiling. Unnatural? Indeed! If she falls (but she isn't going to) she will only dangle from the closest metal clip attached to the rock, provided the other end of the rope is secure.

The comparatively slack rope isn't supporting her, only her hands and (to a lesser extent) her feet are doing that. The left appears to grip a conventional handhold, but the other handhold consists of two fingers inserted into a small hole. Now note the muscle definition in her arms and shoulders.

She's wearing lycra pants, a golden bangle and has dyed her hair. Male climbers do these things. She however takes advantage of her gender by wearing a decorative sports bra. I am not drawn to this photo for conventional sexual reasons, rather because it blurs previous gender-defined roles. Oh yeah? Yeah!

Blest Redeemer (123,985 words written; target 150,000 approx, say about 400 pages) is about a woman pushed to the limit and beyond. It’s quite horrible. So I’m a sadist? Not that I know of (Want to psycho-analyse me?) since it’s her resistance to events that’s of interest. As with Jana in Risen on Wings. I realise this sounds like dubious territory and perhaps both books are lousy. But there’s no point in writing purely for the money; you’ve got to enjoy the process. And of course the subject.

Tuesday 11 September 2012

RIP LdP. Meet RR reborn

I know: most of you know my real name. Its best feature is its symmetry; identical initials, eight letters followed by eight letters. Google it and discover a child molester, an arsonist and a retired American football player ahead of me in the standings. I need to be more famous if I'm to gain the approval of the book market.

My first name was chosen to compensate for the dull surname. My brothers came off far, far worse. There's something clunky, almost Meccano-like about Roderick but by now I hardly care. It sounds more sexy pronounced with a French accent and all my French teachers have been women. The abbreviation, Rory, is clearly ridiculous and I've never encouraged it. Mrs RR refers to me as Robin, the majority as Robbie, all Americans as Rod. Roddie is discouraged since it implies short pants.

Roderick means "fame rule" which is what I aim to achieve.

As you can see I've changed the title pic. Carpenters' workshops look organic and smell nice, smithies like the gateway to Hell, car repair shops are esoteric. People who do a lot of writing are either surrounded by mess (ergo, a disorganised mind) or inhuman tidiness (Who'd marry him?).  The desk is a self-assembly job from Ikea and figures in Gorgon Times.

The cushiony thing on the seat is a Putnam Wedge, recommended by a back-pain doctor. Other than technoid books, most of the paperbacks are in French. But not for showing off since few get this far at Chateau Robinson.

Having discarded two blogonyms I presently feel somewhat naked round my lower parts. I have a reputation to re-establish; it would be far easier practising arson.

Photo: Aged 14, Ilkley Moors in background. 

Sunday 9 September 2012

A loathing exorcised

Sonnet to a waterlogged vegetable
(together with its brothers: pumpkins,
marrow, courgettes, cucumbers, zucchini)

This bloated alderman with face aglow,
Smooth cheeked, smooth arsed, smooth tongued (if it could speak).
Empurpled egg, a sort of status quo
Hiding a sponge-like alimentary freak.

Its contours promise much, but then again,
Is it true food or fraudulent display?
Or worse? Puce pelt that passes through, and then,
Returns below in products of decay.

You can’t hate that, it has a gentle taste,
I’m told. But sodden anonymity
Is proof along the line that taste’s debased
And I was born for greater piquancy.

It is a blob and now its meaning’s overlaid
Who wants a fresh cut slice of meter maid?*

* See French dictionary

Thursday 6 September 2012

Pop that's simply (good) music

Ah, if all pop were like this. Then I wouldn’t have to adjust myself, analyse, compromise and euphemise; I’d simply sit back and listen.

Paul Simon at Webster Hall, New York. Good stuff and this is perhaps why. Average age of musicians: fortyish with the star in his seventies. Wide range of instruments including tenor and soprano saxes, trumpet, a self-pumped organ, penny whistles, multitudinous percussion plus guitars in all shapes and sizes. Skills: manifest. Arrangements: complex, subtle and persuasive. Audience (limited to 1000): most, like me, there to listen.

The programme, as with all ageing poppers, a mix of old and new, the latter proving he can still write stuff I enjoy. But let’s look at a comparative oldie and a very old oldie.

Hearts and Bones dates back to 1983. The writing then was spare, the tone melancholy and the melody suited Simon’s  unresonating, slightly hoarse voice.

The arc of a love affair
Rainbows in the high desert air
Mountain passes slipping into stones
Hearts and bones

Here it fits larger forces: orchestral, more substantial, better textured. Perhaps a motet: a polyphonic choral composition used as an anthem in the Roman Catholic service.

Sounds of Silence is bedrock Simon, of course. He wrote it so may tweak it. But please, Paul, the tune is so good, don’t go overboard. He doesn’t, simply straightens out some melodic lines, add curlicues elsewhere. And then, between the end of one vocal line and the start of another adds a six or seven chord guitar lick that somehow summarises the whole tune. Magic!

NOTE: Simon’s voice once overlapped Garfunkel’s falsetto. Now age has turned him into a baritone. He adjusts, of  course. A great musician by any standards.

Monday 3 September 2012

A long way fromWiegenlied

Getting up at 6.25 am (to write Blest Redeemer) leaves a hole in the middle of the day; reveals exactly the nature of a “postprandial” state. Six hundred millilitres of self-brewed coffee slide down my throat and very quickly I’m gone, flittering about on that uneasy boundary between dozing and deep sleeping. To the accompaniment today of Shostakovitch’s Leningrad symphony. 

Believe me it ain’t music to doze by. One non-intellectual on BBC3 Radio described the most memorable movement as “tanks crossing the steppes”. As I drifted into and out of mental silliness I reflected on why Dimitri’s regularly repeated mini-theme turns into perfectly legitimate and absorbing music while Ravel’s equally repetitive Bolero is merely a bore. There are at least half a dozen reasons but I’m still rubbing the silliness out of my eye-corners and a coherent explanation must wait for a period of greater alertness.

I NEVER asked Mrs LdP to read either of my two finished novels; I felt she might be irritated when she recognised the shared roots of certain events, characters and snatches of dialogue. Abruptly she asked me to download them on to her Kindle, which I did. Time passed. A week or two later she said several kind things about Gorgon Times. More time passed.

A Kindle prevents the outside observer from knowing what’s being read. So I was quite surprised when Mrs LdP said, à propos nothing, “By the way I’ve just read Risen on Wings. She (that’s Jana) should have stuck with Dirk. He’s more fun.”

I was inordinately pleased. It meant that RoW was finally out of my hands and into those of a reader. Readers are entitled to have whatever opinion they wish about a novel. The writer no longer matters. Not that I agreed, you understand.

NOTE: Gorgon Times is now available. The download to Kindle (dead cheap at £1.53) arrives in minutes; if you want the paperback (still cheap at £7.95) please be patient, it is printed on demand.