● 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.

Tuesday 30 April 2013

Skyfall rises; MS shrinks

I've watched James Bond movies over the decades. Seen them evolve from plots which adhered to the books (From Russia With Love had the best baddie - Robert Shaw) into three-ring circuses where soundbites outweighed the thrills. Felt they were getting repetitive. Thought Daniel Craig was a step in the right direction. Noticed that the latest, Skyfall, got good  reviews from the critics I pay attention to.

Watched Skyfall last night. A tighter more believable plot which tracks British society as we know it, good London settings,  the enemy reduced to a handful, a villain (magnificent Javier Bardem - such a presence in No Country For Old Men) who has good reasons for his villainy, less gadgetry. Room too for introspection: on responsibility, the business of getting older, making hard decisions, bearing the consequences of "collateral damage", and fear. Plus shooting, bombs, etc. It's not Once Upon A Time In Anatolia, but better than most in its genre.

EARLIER this year I sent the completed Blest Redeemer to Joe for what newspaper journos call copy-tasting. Forty-eight hours on I begged him to destroy the file. A few weeks later I sent him a revision; then another panicky email saying "Not yet." A month or so has passed and 156,000 words have shrunk to 147,575. I may be on the verge.

Not everyone is familiar with numbers of words. Think of the 8500-word shrinkage as 38 A4 pages of double-space typing. Quite a lot. Two short stories. And now the $64,000 question: why, you ask, do I over-write in the first place?

Well, there's a rule of thumb that less is more. So prune hard, eh? Indeed. Unless, of course, what you've got is too abrupt, lacks scene-setting description, needs a bit of fun. Also, who knows in advance which words should stay

Monday 29 April 2013

Childhood revised

Even those who haven't read Proust know that a madeleine (cake) leads to the Land of Memory. But the novel includes a violin sonata, a local train service and a loose paving stone all with similar roles.
Images, sensations, echoes. Last week I was visited by a very strong image. A tin-opener with a stout wooden handle better suited to a stonemason's chisel. At the cutting end a heavy clump of metal shaped into a bull's head. A thick blade below the snout resembled an unconvincing prosthetic jawbone. Even more lurid, a squat spike jutting from the bull's head.
An artefact from an era when tins came like tanks. The squat spike allowed the operator to punch a jagged hole in the tin top; thereafter the warlike blade tore at the metal.
I hadn't thought about that tin-opener for at least fifty years. But as I did I began to peel back layers of my life. Unlike my mother, who feared the ripped edges, I enjoyed opening tins. There'd been a succession of pansy openers, hardly up to the job. I get the feeling the bull's head was acquired for me alone.
The spike was - you might say - a two-edged weapon. Driven with sufficient force to penetrate the top, it briefly triggered a jet of pea or bean liquor a foot high. Didn't matter to me, I was a dirty child.
A child being useful. Stepping out of character. Urged on by a minor sense of power. Whereas, previously, my childhood memories have tended to dwell on my fears and my uselessness. Marcel knew about all these things.
NOTE. I am not preaching Proust. I never do. We arrive there solo or not at all.

Thursday 25 April 2013

Renaissance? Forget AD 1400 - 1700

The best year so far? 1959 without a doubt. I even remember the sun still shining in the middle of October. Years later, in a German vineyard, I tasted a 1959 wine described generically as Jahrhundertswein - wine of the century. Yeah.

I'd left wretched, mean-spirited, black-clotted, pessimistic, self-regarding, parochial Bradford, city of my birth, and spat in its gutters as I went. Surely, I said to myself, I'll meet a young woman whose eyebrows don't contract in suspicion when I ask if she'd like to go "to the pictures".

I had the most trivial job imaginable. Filling a couple of pages a week with stuff about mopeds - bike/motorbike hybrids powered by tiny 50 cc engines. Gathering raw material included riding round the streets of my new home: London.

London, supposedly a vast uncaring conurbation, reached into my half-starved heart and squeezed it into life. Revelation followed revelation. The press bar in the House of Commons, the rear door of Charing Cross Hospital whence my new-found love would appear, the bus system no longer a mystery but a servant. Along the Embankment I played an extra in an Ealing Studios comedy.

So there we were, VR (VT then) and I, sitting in a shabby blue-painted restaurant in Soho, having unadventurously ordered omelettes because cash was short, looking out on neon signs which promised Fun and Sexy. Talking greedily but not so intensely as to miss a youngish woman who occupied a street doorway and who disappeared for ten minutes at a time as we ate. Three or four times during our meal.

Sordid? Reprehensible of me to watch? Even more so to remember? Later I developed what I hope was a social conscience. Then I was a dehydrated vegetable, enjoying rehydration.

Tuesday 23 April 2013

Often new, usually banned

I don't yearn for youth as such; these days I'm cleverer, more in control, less disadvantaged, familiar with subtler pleasures. It's the experiences of youth that tempt me.

Tomato juice. It had just become available in quart tins. The flavour was unbearably piquant and I was convinced its attraction would last for ever. Fatally - because youth can never envisage the predictable - I drank a quart within five minutes. Never touched it again for at least a decade. But I'd love to relive that period of gustatory innocence.

Climbing trees. Now I'd be reported, suspected of  something undesirable, probably sexual. But then the tactile pleasures of the bark mingled with the thrill of going higher. Trees with thick branches sometimes allowed you to emerge into fresh air. Regally.

Girl ignorance. How did they differ? More frustratingly - why? What happened to a group of three boys when a girl was added? Why was everyone so damn secretive about these effects? (Not that things are entirely clear now.)

Comics. Do you know what? Adults read pages and pages of stuff without pictures. To show off, obviously.

Dirt. It simply had no untoward effects. Why did parents go on about it?

Pop. You gulped it down then belched. A searing pain scoured the insides of your nostrils. A sensation so alien it was kind of thrilling.

Pegging off. Who on earth wanted to wait until the bus had come to a halt? What was the fastest speed you could manage and still stay upright?

Death. Nah, it'd never happen to me. I mean... it's unimaginable. Innit?

Saturday 20 April 2013

An hour a week of student mode

We're of an age in my French class. I wonder what a voyeur would conclude: two neatly groomed women and a sprawling male who perhaps slept rough. An act of suburban charity?

P, a former languages teacher, is in charge. She's a Quaker, a faith well adapted to gentle correction. "Not quite," she says when my guess misses by a country mile. B, also a former teacher (eng.lit.), creates better anglicisations and doesn't test P's gentleness as much as I do.

I've been at it for just over ten years, P and B go back several years further. I answered a classified that may have included "love of French literature", leading to a strangely episodic phone conversation with P. I realise now P was engaged in a difficult task; trying to tell from my responses whether B would find me acceptable.

Each week B and I prepare about ten pages of our mutually agreed book, read alternating passages aloud for P and then translate them aloud rigorously. Concentrating on the more obscure verb tenses. Our present novel (Bienvenue parmi nous, Eric Holder) is especially demanding. The author likes to use familiar words according to their tenth least likely meaning. The sequence Cela était-il du au fait qu'il l'ait..." is made doubly difficult (for me, anyway) in that it is only part of a sentence and the final word (third person singular, present subjunctive of avoir - to have) may stand alone or qualify something yet to arrive.

The books are interesting but I major on reading aloud - getting the vowel sounds right. Many Brits don't bother.

I reflected recently that if I won lottery millions I'd still want to be part of the trio. For which P charges us each £5 a pop.

Friday 19 April 2013

You never knew you had it

This sonnet is obscure and clumsy. But it was never intended to be elegant, poetic or inspiring. It was, however, intended to be unique and may be a first. It celebrates power-assisted steering, now a standard feature on most cars.

Why did I write it? Because I once bought a sporty car that lacked PAS and regretted it from day one. Couldn’t park the bugger.

Under an extroverted silver shell,
Close to the engine’s eager energy,
Two motors, resting, wait to hear the call
From my inadequate anatomy.

Not yet! At lethal speeds as passenger,
I loll, supplying nothing else but weight.
Later and slower, as its director,
I try to tackle its uncertain state.

The car when ambling needs my sensate brain,
To guide its tyres along slow clinging ways,
But motorless it works against the grain
And racks my arms with frictional delays.

An old man’s aid these motors happily
Delete time’s wear and add avidity.

WHATIZZIT? We were shopping for a pedestal mat in Dunelm, a soft goods store that causes me to yawn uncontrollably whenever I pass through its automatically controlled doors. At the checkout was a 99p impulse-buy – a toothpaste tube economiser. Slip it on and slide it up. It appears to work. I thought it deserved publicity

Monday 15 April 2013

A glance at our armoury

If they all had to fight for a place in VR's kitchen, who'd win? It's a trick question.

I'm guessing No. 2 (the fish slice that's unmistakably a fish slice) and No. 6 (the palette knife) would dead-heat. Not because of their utility or their trustworthiness (No 2 is grievously bent and may go any time) but because of an emotional bond stretching beyond the grave. They were wedding gifts to us from VR's Grannie who diverted VR's mind as wartime bombs fell on Dover with repeated tellings of a horrifyingly cruel story bearing the refrain:

White horse, white horse, please don't spottle my clean dress because my mother will surely kill me.

Guess what! The storybook mother did.

No. 1 is a technically superior slice to No. 2 but won't last as long (ie, 53 years). The flexible composite blade is already charred and scored on the back from hot frying pans.

No. 3 is wooden, kind to non-stick surfaces and one of several. Quite soon it will burst into flames and I'll be sad when it does.

The giant No. 4 is symbolic of the indulgent life we lead. Good for transporting Dover sole and asparagus (not simultaneously). The inward curve of the blade is the key to its efficiency.

I'm not sure No. 5 has a purpose but it is quite elegantly styled. A prima donna of kitchen tools which can't hit the high notes.

I suspect No. 7 cost a bomb and represents more indulgence. Great for poached eggs and not much more
End of Fish Slices And Their Derivatives. To come: Sharp Knives

Sunday 14 April 2013

Why are clogs thought to be clever?

My life has been driven by ambition, most of which I've achieved. Here's the metaphorical stepladder:

To be a hack (ie, a bottom-feeding journalist). Defined by the ability to type a 1000-word original article in one hour. Skill acquired in two years.

To be a sportsman manqué. Thus: a rock climber who fears heights, a cyclist too overweight to ride uphill, a clumsy skier, a swimmer with an irrational fear of suffocation.  All goals reached quickly and effortlessly.

To be middle class. A 1930s semi in Kingston-upon-Thames almost confirmed this; a four-bedroom house in Hereford with three toilets ensured it.

To be thought foreign. Instantly achieved in Pittsburgh, Pa. More meritoriously when I was diagnosed as German while speaking French in France.

To be regarded as sexually desirable. By women if possible; by fellas and animals if not. Project stalled as researchers look for ever more sensitive equipment capable of measuring tiny amounts of data.

To be labelled intellectual. For me, the ability - and the desire - to analyse and discuss abstract rather than material matters. Thus the serial killer, instead of talking about guns, rope, knives and victims, alludes to the rewards of his art form.

This appears problematic. Having read Robert Muesil, heard Elliott Carter, tiled the bathroom with Rothko colours and eschewed Strictly Come Dancing I was mildly optimistic. However lack of formal education is holding me back. I cannot easily recall the date of the 1832 Reform Act, I suffer dreadfully from long A vs. short A discrimination, and have only eaten meat loaf, never having expected it to issue from a loudspeaker.

I will, however, persist. I am buying a bust of Goethe (death mask left) and I intend to add analects (sparingly) to stews. 

Saturday 13 April 2013

Clearly a man in love

Try and imagine this. It's wartime. You're running a farm and bringing up three children. Your husband is a serving Army officer and has been away from home for several  months. You are the most devoted wife in Christendom and you've been dutifully writing him letters. You get this in return:

"Darling L, sweet whiskers, do try to write me better letters. Your last, dated 19 December, received today, so eagerly expected, was a bitter disappointment. Do realize that a letter need not be a bald chronicle of events; I know you lead a dull life now, my heart bleeds for it, though I believe you could make it more interesting if you had the will. But that is no reason to make your letters as dull as your life. I am simply not interested in Bridget's children. Do grasp that. A letter should be a form of conversation; write as though you were talking to me."

I broke off and, rather tentatively, read that passage to VR. What, I asked her, would be her reaction? "I would recommend you wrote letters to yourself," she said.


In fact there is later proof that this seemingly hard-hearted instruction bore fruit. L's letters did improve.

In a sense this can be read as a love letter. Yearning for news of his beloved wife, being fobbed off with boiler-plate, the writer crosses the normal husband-wife boundaries in trying to rectify the situation.

And, of course, he knew whereof he spake. He himself wrote brilliant letters. He was inevitably Evelyn Waugh.

Wednesday 10 April 2013

I am what and why I buy

Effortlessly Successful Blogger 1 (Male): What's he up to now?

Effortlessly Successful Blogger 2 (Female): More of the same. Just tick off the likely subjects.

ESB1: Self-aggrandisement?

ESB2: Glad you didn't say boasting; not enough syllables. Specious intellectualism?

ESB1: Ye-e-es. But the titles aren't very demanding. He won't dazzle anyone with Scoop.

ESB2: You don't think he's going the humble route, do you? His paunch alone would disqualify him. It's not a humble paunch.

Voice offstage: On a count of three I'm releasing ursa major.

ESB1 and ESB2 saunter off unconcernedly.

Enter RR, head recently shorn. Looks like Wozzeck after the medical experiments. Faces audience nastily but is overtaken by coughing fit lasting thirteen seconds.

This is an autobiographical diorama. Self-explanatory, really; check out the stuff in brackets. Last week I walked past the Oxfam shop. (No reason charity shouldn't apply to me.) Their window display consisted of fifty or sixty Penguins, artfully piled and scattered (You have a past, I have a history.) Oh, those orange covers! (I can wax sentimental if it's in my interest.) I rushed in and bought fourteen. (Comfortably off but impulsive.) Most of which I'd read. (I enjoy being seen buying books.) Some of which I own, in Penguin form. (My mind's going but it's like a warm bath.). Several by E. Waugh. (A man less lovable than me.) The Jean Rhys was recommended by VR. (Keeping the rift away from the lute.) The Elizabeth Taylor by Plutarch/Joe. (Who has just received the completed MS of Blest Redeemer.) I was welcomed at the till. (Popularity can be bought.)

The name's Robinson. Got that?  

Pure Zach

Zach, our grandson, is two days away from his seventh birthday. Without any further explanation  his school posted the following on their website.

Birds of Prey
Zac from year 2 wrote this report

On Thursday we went to the Birds of Prey Centre. The children had to go in partners to go on the bus. Then we lined up. There were lots of birds.  Then it was the show.Then we had a look at the biggest bird. The biggest bird is called and Andian Condor. At the show it always flew past Flora. We had to sit on bin bags because it was wet. The birds weren't allowed to go in the tree. They would go to Holly if she shouted and whistled. I then thought the owls weren't nocternal. Then it was lunch and we went back to school.

As most of you know my relationship with halls of education is imperfect at best. And Zach's school has the further disadvantage in that it's CofE. Nevertheless I tip my hat to the staff for doing good work on a good pupil.

Monday 8 April 2013

Not available at bijouteries

Saturday Night And Sunday Morning belongs to a cluster of British films in the sixties aimed at proving if you took a scalpel to the tripes of a member of the working class what spilled out was remarkably similar to that which would have emerged had the unfortunate Celia Johnson been subjected to the same process. That people who were paid for making things had lives, loves and a tendency to procreate. Unfortunately the movie also encouraged directors to believe that projectile vomiting is a facinating cinematic event, something we - as moviegoers - are still suffering from.

All of which is a long-winded way of introducing SNASM's opening scene in which the central character, working at a lathe in a bicycle factory, tosses yet another finished bottom-bracket spindle into a box pallet. The key word being "finished" and the implication is that Barrett Bonden is back, albeit only briefly.

Metal enters a factory in rough form - typically as sheet, billets or castings - is subjected to various types of cutting and exits in a much smoother form. Why? Because these smooth bits will eventually be assembled into a moving mechanical system and their smoothness is an aid to more efficient movement.

And now I'm getting to the point. Smoothed metal can be  pretty. The aforementioned spindle (see pic) is deceptively simple: mounted on a nicely carpentered wood stand it could stay your eye. As could the bearing race (which looks almost like a coronet). Enhanced by a black velvet background and carefully positioned spotlights so might the crankshaft.

I'm not such a damn fool as to say these objects are art. Simply that devices created to fulfil specific engineering tasks may be pleasing to look at. Form follows function. But you knew all that, didn't you?

Friday 5 April 2013

The Playstation imperative

I realise there are those who, having read my previous non-post, will think it was a scam - to discover how many comments might be generated from failing to post. It wasn't. The subject was prayer and it was deadly serious. VR warned me I was a fool to try, we went out for lunch at the idyllically tranquil Kilpeck Inn, driving back in an equable frame of mind I decided she was right.

Besides the roof had fallen in. Something horrible had happened to Zach's other grandmother, Nanna, while in Kuala Lumpur, this had impinged on Zach's parents (Occasional Speeder and D) and we found ourselves looking after Zach for two or three days. No sweat except that this time he came with a price tag. He had brought his Playstation and was insisting he be allowed to play it.

I must confess there is a TV in the room Zach uses. Hey, I know we should be feeding his ear'ole with a Strasbourg Goose diet of Lamb's Tales From Shakespeare. But Zach's a child of our times. This time next year he'll probably be watching The Killing, Episode 4.

The Playstation needed plugging into Z's TV.  Easy. But despite OS's best efforts it wouldn't work. Time for a phone call to the Ultimate Source, OS's husband D. Had she done this? Yes. Had she done that? Yes. Had she disconnected the digibox which ensures that the TV can receive digital transmissions - ie, work as a TV. No she hadn't (and neither had I, in my wildest dreams, imagined this might be necessary). So OS unplugged the digibox and, lo...

In retrospect it may have seemed callous that we were worrying about Playstations while Nanna was suffering, but of course there's a simple answer. Nanna wouldn't have profited from Zach's deprivation. Me? I was glad I'd pulled the piece on prayer. Cursing would have been closer.

Wednesday 3 April 2013

What kind of bridge?

Post deleted on the grounds that I didn't think anyone would take me seriously

Tuesday 2 April 2013

Ignore him; he's showing off

Theoretically I can post about anything. But I know that's not strictly true. In my heart of hearts, where shame rules and someone from Luddenfoot acts as chairperson, there is a need to reach out. To cause a response. The only proof that the act of writing has demonstrated its worth.

I could of course go the Germaine Greer route. Switching  from tough-mindedness to being a contrarian: seeking deliberately to get up another's nostrils. I did this in the early days. I wrote dismissively about gardening and Joe (then Plutarch) responded, too philosophically for my taste. I called into question nostalgia about aged motor-cars and Avus rose up.

After a while I saw this was crass. A variant on the French irony contained in: Ce chien est méchant; quand on l'attaque, il se défend. What I really wanted was for others to enhance and embellish my missiles in their own way.

Lists could do this and I did a lot of My Ten Worst... or whatever. But after a while a List-Truth became evident; the items needed not only to be honest but to be unexpected. They also had to have universal appeal. Then another smaller, more personal List-Truth emerged: lists aren't really writing.

Let's suppose I was desperate for a response. How would I go about trying to ensure it? One possibility would be to do what Peter Finch did, playing a TV news anchor-man in the movie Network. Announce I was going to commit suicide in front of a video camera on a specified date. I could go further, and promise an encore. Saying that my follow-up post would be from beyond the grave (proving there was an after-life) or not (proving there wasn't).

But would such a gesture, at best, result in anything other than Goodbye in different forms?