● 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.

Friday 31 May 2013

A chronic illness, I fear

As a British blogger I play the irony game. But then I have no choice. Irony is all we Brits have left.

Canadians have more temperate weather, Americans a quieter reputation, France is more sympathetic, Greeks have better-organised government,  Chad arboriculture is way ahead, Germans understand water, Belgian identity is envied, Inuits make better cocktails (because of the ice).

We Brits must make do.

Irony is frequently misunderstood. It can get people into trouble as you will see.

Here I'm about to make a parenthetical aside and I'm torn by a dilemma: should I or should I not say parentheses are those curvy things top right on the keyboard? I guess not. Thus my parenthetical question: what is the theroretical aim of blogging? My answer: to entertain. Thus if lying is funnier is one entitled to lie? Please agree. It will make my job so much easier.

Back to irony. Its civil-marriage partner (in Britain at least) is understatement. Combine this with lying (which you have already agreed to) and the resultant post may seem way out. Inexplicable. You may feel like withdrawing your diplomats - a popular move, an end to their living it up in the West End of London.

Why am I agonising? Ironising? I recently practised irony on someone in the blogosphere and I think - I can't be sure - that person snapped. There are clues. A belief that the irony arrived like an iron girder to the head. Pain rather than a funny fizzle.

My non-parenthetical question: since irony is as vital to me as my lungs should I give up? Always remember - by saying yes you may be the next to suffer.

Wednesday 29 May 2013

Holding hands with poetry

After Hay our quartet has traditionally travelled the nearby countryside which is mercifully unknown to 98.7% of the British population. This time the weather forced us down the Pembroke peninsula (in Wales) to escape the rain.

Our aims were vague. Mumbles, despite its discouraging name, is beautiful, as is St David's Head. Glancing at the map my eye caught Laugharne on the Towy estuary. A bit of confusion here. I was pretty sure the village was associated with Dylan Thomas but he was puckish with names: the play for voices, Under Milk Mood, is set in Llareggub. Say that backwards and you'll get what I mean.

I drove to Laugharne anyway and was relieved to see signs pointing to Boat House, Dylan Thomas. The house name clicked. But would it be worth visiting? Not all writer's houses are. Henry James' long-standing residence, Lamb House, Rye, on the south coast was very disappointing. Not a stick of original furniture and not (very hard to take) a single book.

A further matter. Thomas was a poet: I'm aware of some names and some poems but it's not my field.

I'm glad to say it worked. A small isolated house below a cliff with a wide tidally-affected view. Lonely but close enough to the Laugharne boozer. A shed hanging from the access road where he worked.

Despite the marine environment it evoked his great poem:

Over Sir John's Hill,
The hawk on fire hangs still;
In a hoisted cloud, at drop of dusk, he pulls to his claws
And gallows, up the rays of his eyes the small birds of the bay

As Michelin would have it: Il vaut le voyage.

Tuesday 28 May 2013

It really isn't fair

Women - doomed to discomfort for ever

Philosophy was big at this year's Hay Festival - in conflict with physics, describing consciousness, substituting for God. But the REALLY BIG question went unanswered at the public loos.

Feeling the need I called in at the Gents and was relieved within a minute. Communal troughs ensured the Gents could handle fifteen men at a time.

Things were different at the Ladies. Similar size cabins  accommodated six derrières and the queue numbered twenty.

I hate the world's casual discrimination against women. So how many ladies' loos would be necessary to ensure the same in-and-out comfort as men routinely expect. I did the arithmetic, checked it with a physicist of my acquaintance. Allowing 4 min. for women (vs. 1 min. for men), the answer is a whopping factor of ten. In other words, ten times as many Ladies as Gents.

Ladies! it's never going to happen. You will always queue and suffer.

Bad news for the Right

Eric Hobsbawm, who died recently in his nineties, was an internationally respected British historian who often spoke at Hay. He was also an unreconstructed Marxist. That didn't matter when The Guardian sponsored Hay since the newspaper has always been soft on left-leaning causes. But now the sponsor is The Daily Telegraph, right-wing voice of the Home Counties. This year the EH memorial lecture rang with shouts of revolution. Time for Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells to open his bottle of green ink.

On the other hand, jowly Gavin Hewitt, now the BBC News' Europe editor - subject of one of my earlier sonnets on Works Well - proved to be brisk, full of facts on Euro-economic Disaster, and, on the whole, presentable. Hay is many mansions.

Friday 24 May 2013

Hoping to contain the world

My recent nostalgia (Such stuff as dreams...) caused Tom to respond elliptically, "I like sets; sets of all kinds."

I say elliptically since I hadn't knowingly touched on sets. But that didn't matter. Floodgates opened.

Parts of me yearn for what sets represent: comfort, a sense of completeness. Cigarette cards first but then things got complex. An incomplete set can bring the reverse of comfort: a disturbance, a sense of unease.

Proust's original UK publisher, Chatto and Windus, offered A La Recherche in a ten-volume sequence. We were horribly poor and VR bought me the first volume inscribed "This could be the start of something big..." Quickly C&W ditched this sequence and launched another, let's say in eight volumes. My gift became an orphan and my feelings were hard to handle: a combination of being manipulated, discarded, out on a limb. A set victim.

When Penguin published a three-volume set, I bought all three immediately at £45 which I could ill afford. I was protected and the comfort returned.

But sets as sets can have a malign effect. Still poor I bought CDs as I discovered new musical works. Thus I learned works individually. When I could afford sets I bought them and discovered a danger. I have - and love - the complete Shostakovich quartets: five CDs covering 15 pieces. Yet even now they are not clear in my mind as separate works. I tend to listen to whole discs: thus running, say, the twelfth, the thirteenth and the fourteenth together. These magnificent quartets are a jumble. More discipline, of course. But heck it's music, not potty training.

Don't get me wrong, though. Like Tom I like sets. They calm me down, imply I've got things under control. Being open about delusions is a sign of adulthood.

Thursday 23 May 2013

Such stuff as dreams...

Where is the life that late I led?
Where has it gone? Totally dead.
Where is the fun I used to find?
Utterly gone. Gone with the wind.

Courtesy Cole Porter's Kiss Me Kate.

In fact the singer is mourning the passing of more fleshy pleasures. Common decency prevents me taking up that theme but once forklift trucks ran sex a very close second in my earlier life. To the point where I must call a pedantic intermission: these models belong to the genus, Truck, Forklift, but some (notably the orange to the right of the green on the upper row) are more precisely described as Truck, Reach. I could explain the difference but won't. This is a time for nostalgia, not nuts and bolts.

Once my life was governed by the practice (It isn't a science.) of logistics which I will also avoid defining other than to say it is at the heart of industrial efficiency. Forklift trucks (FLTs) are an important tool in ensuring good logistics. And away with the blackboard.

FLTs are made in a cluster of developed countries and their names may be faintly familiar to you: Yale, Caterpillar, Lansing-Linde, Mitsubishi, Rolatruc, Hyster, Fiat, Toyota, etc. I wrote about their differences and photographed their liveries. The work took me round the world, wasn't over-demanding and allowed me to believe - briefly - I left behind the spoors of an expert. Certainly I was remembered but that was because of my coarse Northern upbringing.

FLT manufacturers have pleasingly detailed models made for publicity purposes. My collection amounts to thirty. When Zach enters my atelier his eyes rise yearningly but on this matter - if on no other - I am briskly discouraging: no you can't, and that's that. They're part of my past fun.

Wednesday 22 May 2013

A little local difficulty

The elderly don't do computers: we're looking for reassurance not revelation. Nor do we wish to be overwhelmed or deceived. Yet, as computers theoretically get easier they - paradoxically - become more exotic, more remote. Their language spills out into the wider world. Yahoo acquires Tumblr, says a headline. I had to remind myself what Yahoo did even though I used the service a decade ago. Tumblr? Who knows?

When computers were introduced at the publishing company that employed me in and around 1990 I had no misgivings. And for one reason. My DOS-based word processor would allow me, over and over,  to revise what I had written. I was done forever with tearing out sheets of paper from a typewriter and throwing them on the floor. Or bothering with carbon paper. I would write better, tighter English because a computer would conserve my physical energy.

From then on communicating without a computer was unimaginable. Quill pens are for quill minds.

I shouldn't have said elderly (above) I should have said old. Yesterday I was reminded. I have now transferred VR's reading record from eight notebooks (one per year) into a database - 1600-plus books reduced to author, title, date finished, rating, 20-words of comment. But VR's database  is incompatible and I decided a simple table, in MsW, would be easier to handle.

In a sense I've come full circle. MsW is at heart a word processor - as Chatsworth and a Scottish bothy resemble each other. All the tools I need are there to convert VRbooks.db into a table. But oh they yield themselves up so slowly. Software has gone out and multiplied, whereas I have shrunk. Never mind; the job would take longer with a quill pen.

Monday 20 May 2013

Towards a dusty death

Boredom's a bit like an STD, it has no social cachet. Guardian readers believe boredom is a symptom of low intelligence, may even define that state. They haven't thought it through.

If you're an active part of a household boredom is ever-present. It's there in the loo (What's the best brush technique?), the washbowl (The menace of soap curd.) and over and over in the kitchen (Could an unwrung dish-cloth kill you?)

Routines keep boredom at bay. Washing-up has a logical sequence - learn it. Making the bed is a two-person job. Always return the TV recorder remote to its unique place. Why waste time peeling a spud with a knife? The best books for reading on the loo are the best books. A casual approach to re-sleeving a duvet never works. Very few items are entitled to occupy the coffee table.

I'm good (ie, obsessive) about boredom-defeating systems. But the supermarket defeats me. They rearrange product locations to prevent me doing an in-and-out in less than seven minutes. Bastards! However long they detain me I'll never buy marmalade-flavoured Popsicles.

A shelf of multi-coloured packages turns into a blur, transmitting no useful information. I am forced to draw close in order to interpret marketing hyperbole, This is not a leisure-time pursuit.

Ironmongery (eg, screws) has been dropped - probably because it's low margin. Not knowing this I waste time looking; I could be home cutting my toe-nails.

Books. The sort on sale discourage me from reading.

"Colleague announcements" over the tannoy follow peculiarly irritating cadences as if the announcer is pretending to be a robot. Just one more reason why supermarket time is longer than outdoor time.

I feel older; the other customers look older. We are all victims of cumulative retail boredom - insidious and probably terminal 

Saturday 18 May 2013

Advice - a delicate child

Once a week VR takes the bus (free of course) to Hereford, usually to change library books, occasionally to buy an edible luxury. I tend to stay at home but I'm presently between novels and time is dragging. Magnanimously I volunteer. Magnanimity turns sour when the twice hourly bus fails to arrive and leaves me playing mental solitaire.
VR is looking for shoes. Her choice is limited: her feet are 3½ and you could roll a golf ball under either of her high arches. "I'm looking for something pretty," she explains. "Would you like to help?"
In fifty-three years of marriage this is a first. I take my duties seriously. I dismiss one pair for being hugger-mugger, another for looking like sandals, yet another for lack of integrated design. "These are the ones," I say, pointing.
VR says nothing, gathers up three other styles and we go to the sitting-down place. I feel a sulk coming on.
The three others are tried, discussion ensues and I am invited to rate them. I do so, grumpily. Finally my choice is tried. "They're the best," I say, and VR nods to the sales assistant. Full whack price, too.
The moral? In a marriage as long as ours, one may accept the other's advice. But only after demonstrating one hasn't been steam-rollered. I was quietly pleased but said nothing. An English couple, behaving typically 
TA FOR THAT In Hereford, everyone leaving the bus thanks the driver. It doesn't weary me and I've joined in. My bonhomie doesn't, however, extend to ATMs.
UNCHRISTMAS I've cut my Christmas card list savagely; a book of a dozen postage stamps covers it easily. It's May and I'm still sending letters decorated with images of Santa Claus. Will people guess why?

PS: VR's feet are 3, not 3½.

Thursday 16 May 2013

Disappointment? Not a chance

Most of us hate admitting we're disappointed. Often we've spent money, waited ages, had a hair-cut, bought new clothes. To go through all that and fall short; you feel so foolish.

Especially with places. Even Paris didn't match my youthful imagination. Venezuela was humdrum. Mauritius offered the dullest food. Better to come upon somewhere unexpected: Dompierre-le-Bouton, Montreal, Kuala Lumpur in the fifties. But the unexpected denies us anticipation and that's half the fun.

Eventually New Zealand filled the bill. But decades before one place had met and exceeded all the hype. That our hotel was on El Camino Real (The King's Highway) was a good start.

San Franciso 1969. We may, as the song says, have left our hearts there.

It helped that I arrived as a golden boy. I had taken over a project that had languished for years: the editing of a long, long technical manuscript: in bits and pieces and with hundreds of illustrations. My boss's expectations were low. Finally the MS was ready and he was ecstatic. "Check it out with the author. Take your wife. Hire a car." Guess where the author lived.

We had lots of spare time. There was no toll driving north on the Golden Gate Bridge, only driving south - into the city. How blessedly snobbist.

We ate abalone on Fisherman's Wharf; you'd be jailed for that now. The redwoods were as tall as they said they were, remote and still. You could get legless tasting wine for free at the hacienda-style vineyard shops. Cannery Row. The Cartmel peninsula. Zig-zag Lombard Street (pictured). All the tourist junk; nothing let us down. Great heartfelt songs afterwards.

But best of all: the relief at not having to make excuses. We'd got what we'd hoped for.

Tuesday 14 May 2013

Facial hair. Or did I say fatal?

Eyebrows? I didn't realise I had any until I was in my sixties. By then they'd started to curl down at the outer ends, irritating my eyelids. "Do you want them trimmed?" asked
my hairdresser. I nodded but he never cut them short enough. I had a go myself but couldn't help feeling antsy  having the scissors near my eyeballs and the back-to-front effect in the mirror.

When hair started growing out of my nostrils I realised that this signalled the end of any claims - vestigial enough in all conscience - about sex appeal. I trimmed away these strands and was left with a hairy stump, resembling a miniature shaving brush. Hard to say which option was the more repellent.

Ear hair. What I managed to extract looked more like a thin twig. Strange.

Which left beards. I suppose most men have wondered what it would be like to retreat behind a beard. Certainly many have tried. I did but couldn't get beyond the itchy-scratchy phase that sets in after a week. Lying in bed this morning I suddenly thought - Photoshop!

So here I am. Adding a beard causes the bottom end of the face to lose definition. If there's any latent stupidity in the face, a beard emphasises it. Here I don’t look capable of finding my way to the toilet. Worse: I’ve just discovered that the toilet is several floors down.

I look less bad tempered. A crook waiting to practice ATM fraud would be encouraged if this enfeebled oldster turned up and started fumbling for his debit card.

I see a faintly marine look. But nothing more adventurous than a rowing boat on Lister Park lake. Thank God I wasn't tempted to go all the way.

Sunday 12 May 2013

Bluntness is bad for you

Vic, my father-in-law (above), was a chef. He was also a pagan with inventive ideas about the Pope, but that's for another day.
I used to visit him in his subterranean kitchen at the Esplanade Hotel, Folkestone, long since demolished. If he was carving meat he'd chat, all the while using a steel to keep the blade sharp. The motion was clearly instinctive, just a couple of strokes then back to the cutting. I became mesmerised and puzzled; surely the passes against the steel were too gentle to affect the blade. But no. Hiss-hiss, and  the knife was again ready to free off impossibly thin slices of meat, one after the other, according to the financial dictates of the fixed-price lunch.
Those kissing strokes were all it took; the knife blade never dulled. I sought to bring about this efficiency in Hereford. I bought a Carborundum stone and secured it in a wooden frame. Then I bought a steel EMBEDDED WITH DIAMOND DUST. Quickly all the knives were sharpened.
I wanted VR to adopt this practice but realised the difficulties. The ultimate culinary skill is to bring all the elements of a meal together at the same time, at which she is adept. Better she concentrated on that and I wielded the steel.

Sharpening wears away the knife, a friend said. True, but then the knife is a consumable and it’s worth replacing it every decade. Cutting with a sharp knife can be as sensuous as… well, why don't you fill in the comparison.

Properly sharpened the blade eventually adopts the shape shown in the drawing.

Friday 10 May 2013

Was I - perhaps - educable?

I did badly at school because (1) I couldn’t see why I needed a formal education, and (2) no master suggested otherwise.

Having left school I led a charmed life. I submitted sentences to sub-editors who humiliated me into writing better sentences – a simple process. Then, against all my instincts, and using nothing more than the threat of draconian punishment, the RAF forced me to absorb the rudiments of electronics, an applied form of physics. Suddenly I had educational depth! Anyone more biddable might have concluded I’d been chosen and guided by a larger force. Perhaps even A Larger Force, with capital letters.

Yesterday I saw the movie of Alan Bennett's play The History Boys wherein Sheffield sixth-formers are prepared for the Oxford-Cambridge entrance exam.

These are very clever lads, already diverging from nuts-and-bolts school learning. In an easy-flowing yet competitive meritocracy they are, I suppose, employing their intelligence to develop their intellect. For the first time ever I saw being taught as an enjoyable process. I fancied my chances among them.

A delusion, of course. I was imagining myself as I am now - the product of decades of higgledy-piggledy experience - instead of what I then was: a surly seventeen-year-old length of gristle. Gristle too that had unbelievably triumphed over the barriers preceding A-levels. Even so... I was drawn to that noisy, jeering, well-read, broadly talented group of show-offs. Convinced I’d have fitted in.

Well it didn't happen and I’m not complaining. I'm fairly satisfied with the way things worked out, even if I do lack trained analytical ability and a mental database arrived at logically rather than willy-nilly.
But there's this worm that's nibbling away... they call it envy

Wednesday 8 May 2013

The Rs, sub-atomically speaking

This significant moment (May 7 2013, 18.05, Belmont, County of Hereford, England) in the combined lives of VR and RR was captured as an arrangement of pixels, flushed through the Large Hadron Collider, bombarded with rampant electrons and emerged, somewhere in Switzerland, with a whole range of sub-particles identified and (conveniently) numbered. Click pic for greater truths.

Why significant? The temperature was about 21 deg C, the following day was predicted to be rain-swept (This did ensue.) and it was a case of Carpe Diem: our first patio drinkie-poo this year.

1. Quite fashionable shawl round VR's shoulders proved to be unnecessary.

2. The previous weekend we agreed: if we persisted with our director's chairs (collapsible, low-slung, created from aluminium tubing and canvas) we would, one day, have to call the fire-brigade to have ourselves extracted. Hence new all-metal chairs.

3. Book. Taking the photo lasted about 3 min; while I did so VR read. After, she put the book to one side and we talked. That's how she gets through 200-plus books a year.

4. Solar cell, attached to fence, switches on LEDs in tree when it gets dark. For free!

5. Tree - a prunus. Bought and planted by RR as VR's birthday present a few years ago. Amazingly, it flourishes.

6. Wall. While we talked, two pigeons attempted rumpy-pumpy on it, failed, flew off.

7. Patio trough. Recently re-planted with alpines by VR.

8. Generic white Burgundy in insulative, double-walled chill preserver. Not a serious wine.

Unnumbered (LHC not sensitive enough to identify this sub-particle). Talk. About our mothers. 

Monday 6 May 2013

You've read 'em. Try plotting one

Large gaps open up in the working day; I waste time listing requests for the gardener. I'm definitely at a loose end. Blest Redeemer is probably on Joe's Kindle by now. Time to challenge the ageing process and start a new novel
As I walk to Tesco for The Guardian a plot starts to form round the physical details of a woman I knew glancingly in the 1950s. Barbara, late twenties, hard, angular face, hair like corn-silk constantly sliding out of place, complexion the colour of old ivory. Thin not slender, impatient, slightly snappish. Future seems assured and desirable.
In the long, continuous-time first chapter something horrible happens (Not rape!) and her almost-achieved plans for future are wrecked. Instead her employment will be at a lower, non-professional level in society and it is this I want to write about. She'll need to change.
My mind drifts back in time. Could unlikeable X, suitably modified, be at the heart of this violent upheaval in Barbara's life?
But… characters should recur, as aids to telling the rest of the story. X must live beyond the first chapter’s beastliness. And then evolve. Big, serious, inner question: can I imagine an “improved” X? Wow! Plot starts to balloon.
Location: London (too easy), Bradford (just done), Wales (can't pronounce place names), rural Wiltshire (possible; it's a countryside I respond to), Germany (no more foreign languages), USA (just possible, would be a struggle).
No-nos. No more music, poetry, book reading (all encourage lazy plotting). No more kids or elderlies (to avoid ruts).
Incidentals. Barbara leisure paints? (Time I took on painting.) Sculpts wood? (Better still.). A chronic ailment, more glamorous than back pain, more serious than tinnitus. Sex: coloured by her impatience.

Saturday 4 May 2013

Actually, the hair helps

Over the last thirty years, music has tightened its grip on me; a nubby of awareness has grown, become more intense, more informed. Thanks to influences stretching from Joni Mitchell to Charles Rosen, to my late mate, Richard, to pianist Stephen Hough, to Wagner.

And to conductor Sir Colin Davis. When I play Messiah in my head, the template is always his with its tiny, pared-down super-expert choir. And when Fiordeligi and Dorabella engage in thrumming, organic duets the voices are Janet Baker and Montserrat Caballé but Cosi is being directed by the man whose hair-do proclaims "Conductor!"

Then there are his opinions. His sly digs at the authentic music cult. His belief that a day spent without access to the singing voice endangers the soul. His sudden revelation (last night on telly) about the conductor, Sir Malcolm Sargent: "Everybody disliked him."

Davis died a fortnight ago and yesterday they showed his final interview, punctuated by lengthy periods of contemplation. Characteristically he told me something I didn't know: singers are eternally at risk of arriving late on their cue.

In singing, for instance, "Misere" the word doesn't start with a musical note but with a humming sound as the voice begins to form the letter M. Thus (exaggeratedly): "Mmmm-is-a-rare-rrr-i." These delays can be significant. To the point where some singers only become musically audible at the point in time designated for the first E in Misere. Singers, said Davis, should fill up their windbags and be ready to sing immediately.

Was he religious? He didn't know. Did he fear death? No. Might after-death be silence? Perhaps, but a human would be needed to perceive silence.

But never mind my views. His words were preceded by his 2011 version of LvB's Missa Solemnis. Verily, the music spoke for him.

Thursday 2 May 2013

They're alive; they need names

Marja-Leena recently mentioned a Japanese artist who copied words from English film sub-titles to accompany his abstract works. In a different context, writer Dick Francis (whodunnits with horses) admitted stealing a telephone directory from his Oslo hotel "as a source of Norwegian names" for his next novel.

Both these acts resonated. I needed names for characters in my three novels and Joe Doak (or its French equivalent) simply wouldn't do. In Gorgon Times I knew the surname of the male central character - Hatch - before I knew what he would do. Otherwise, I Googled.

My best name, in that she leapt from the page proclaiming it, was Jana's French flying student Dieudonné (lit. God-given) which shortened mischievously to Didi. Good job she was married and that I am. In the same novel I needed a misanthropic property developer so I avenged myself yet again on my birth region, made him a West Ridinger, and inserted him in the chapter labelled Dreaded Grandage.

The novel's title was Risen On Wings but it always sounded too holy. Now it's re-christened Arizona Exit.

Here are the names of four characters from Blest Redeemer with their echoes: a petite apple-cheeked Scotswoman called Caitlin (say it with a Borders accent), Colin Levitt who over-reaches himself professionally and whose surname - which hints at rising - takes on an ironic tone as the walls come down, Ibrahim who is able to justify singing Christian masses, and Mr Chaudhry, with roots in the Punjab, is a civil servant who's damned if he does, and damned if he doesn't.

Sometimes, after midnight, I don a pea-jacket and wander the neighbourhood. If anyone asks I'm Barrett Bonden.