● 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.

Wednesday 31 July 2013

Junk food and the Class War

Never "improve" junk food. To do so is to miss the point. Eating junk food is a political gesture; an act of solidarity with those who have no other choice. We sacrifice part of our stomach lining to show that we care. We say, in effect, there are fast days when sole VĂ©ronique is off the menu. All perfectly logical provided we obey the rules:

Fish and chips. Vinegar is essential but white wine vinegar, and, especially, balsamic vinegar are cultural digressions. Only Sarson's (industrial strength) will do.

Custard doughnuts. Don't yearn for cream filling. The custard should taste as if it were created in a chemistry lab. Anything else is truckling to the middle classes.

Hard-boiled-egg sandwich without mayo. Forget crusty cottage loaves warm from the oven. The bread should act as an edible table napkin to absorb the excess taste of sulphur. Sliced Mother's Pride pressed flat on the egg is the answer.

Tinned butter beans. VR detests the thick chewy tegument and the bitter "tinny" taste; prefers samphire. As I say, eating is a series of class definitions.

Oxford vs. Robertson's marmalade. You'd never willingly pick up a discarded orange skin and chew it enthusiastically, would you? More class stuff.

Hot dogs. The rubbery skin is part of the appeal, dummy! That moment when the incisor pops through is what you're hoping for. Cumberland sausages? Go to Cumberland.

WIP Hand Signals
(Francine on another surgeon's operating technique) “Her hand was steady, the incision depth sustained.”

“No, no. Your feelings, And I want real honesty.”


Dolland slapped his own knee delightedly. “That’s what I hoped for. At heart good surgeons are selfish. They want to be up there all the time. Diagnostics need practice and you’ll get that. But no one can teach the surgical urge.”

Monday 29 July 2013

International conspiracy

Printers irritate the hell out of me. The economics are such they could be given away free since extortionate cartridge costs quickly match the printer’s purchase price. What my mother called "a ramp" and I, youthfully, "a swizz". A con.

I am publicising a show by VR's painting group. My Canon printer plays up; a repair would exceed the £80 cost price. Worse, a dozen unused cartridges will go to waste. The sense of being defrauded combined with an  attack of blepharitis, a corn that comes and goes on my left  foot, and the side-effects of bronchiectasis, now designated  as chronic, cause me to rail against dark forces. And, come to think of it, the forces of light.

The Hewlett-Packard replacement has touch-screen controls instead of buttons. Whoopee, oh whoopee! Said ironically. A warning on the box says it lacks a USB cable without which it won't work. The cable, a paltry thing. costs £13, causing me to rail some more. I feel like Monty Python's little man in the off-licence. The HP is, however, better designed; I no longer need pianist's fingers. Within minutes I'm trucking.

That was twenty-four hours ago. The HP crouches, 50 cm away, and my resentment is starting to fade. It's just a thing. I'll never love it but it does a job. I bought it with my credit card and that's good; it didn't cost me real money.

WIP Hand Signals
Francine went straight to Roger's most worryng patient, a splenectomy who might have picked up an infection. Temperature up slightly, passed a poor night, winced slightly  as she ran a gentle finger over his dressing.

“How're you feeling Mr Daley?” she asked.

“I'm scared,” he said. “Should I be?”

“There's nothing scary as such...”

“All surgery's a risk,” said Daley fatalistically.

Friday 26 July 2013

It's not Sesame Sreet, you know

It was the interval. VR asked what kind of ice cream; I said vanilla. I was surprised it was still light. I felt I'd been locked up for ages. Time enough for a head transplant, or a body transplant to my existing head.

I dug into my ice and asked, "What about Peritonitis...?"

"His name's Pirithous."

"Pirithous, then. When he...?"

"He's already dead. He doesn't appear."

"But the summary...?"

VR said kindly, "Pirithous isn't part of the Theseus myth. The composer added him in."

I was making a fool of myself. I decided to forget the two dozen sailors who waved their legs in the hornpipe - immediately after the stepmother announced she was in love with her stepson and he turned her down. She looked disenchanted; the sailors looked jolly.

A film clip explained why. The set designer said the sailors were there to halt the narrative. They certainly did.

As I drove home VR asked, "In the first scene, the one in the giant open fridge. With the 10 ft broccoli floret and the monster tube of passata, partially squeezed."

I nodded cautiously.

"Is the fridge closed for the second scene?"

I was able to confirm it was.

As we watched TV news I reflected. Rameau died in 1764, fourteen years after Bach. Yet the B-Minor Mass is more fun than R's Hippolyte et Aricie. A slow learner, Rameau. Me too.

WIP Hand Signals.
“Ah, but is passion admirable?”
(Francine) smiled. “You wouldn't be Martin Ibanez without it.”
“And do you care for Martin Ibanez?”
“I enjoy his company.”
“Just that?”
She paused slightly. “I enjoy his body.”
“Measure that enjoyment.”
“I don't care to. Measuring - the idea's horrid.”

Thursday 25 July 2013

To which I plead guity

From time to time I am able to make VR laugh and that, as much as anything else, has helped promote my acceptability for a half century.

But there are lapses into what VR calls my "public schoolboy sense of humour", frequently to do with body secretions. Her judgement always brings me up short since I am unable to see myself as a true alumnus of a public (ie, private) school. Even though it's partly true.

However the temptation is never entirely suppressed. Having bought Lid-Care wipes online I now receive spam from the supplier. The website is divided into predictable sub-sections: Medicine, Toiletries, Vitamins and - intriguingly - Embarrassing. I could no more resist a click at venture than voluntarily stop breathing.

The label was short for embarrassing symptoms and listed specifics which could be ordered by name rather than description. These include products claiming to reverse hair loss and over-the-counter solutions to impotence. Neither remotely funny, though my grab-bag was moderately enriched by “itchy anus”.

Our local pharmacy has a consulting room. My favourite pharmacist, Frances, a tiny, rather gay woman dressed in black, her accent the quintessence of Welshness, likes to eliminate the solemnity from her offerings. In particular (see pic) toe-spacers ("You could make yourself a fortune," she joked in response to my description.) Would I dare admit jock itch to Frances behind the frosted windows?

I dare say I’d falter. But there's a short story there.

WIP Hand Signals. "Outside, on the moped and within the vault of her crash helmet, Francine had time and privacy to consider a truer account of how she and Martin Ibanez had parted. Below, the 50 cc engine crackled inoffensively and traffic was light; for once she wasn't required to be totally alert ... "

Tuesday 23 July 2013

A reduced life

One of VR's acquaintances has been diagnosed with glaucoma and his driving licence has been removed. He lives in  a village, no doubt chosen for it tranquillity, and his offspring whom he used to visit regularly are widely scattered across Britain. The adjustments he is having to make are radical.

Suddenly, the disadvantages of moving from urban Kingston-upon-Thames to rural Herefordshire, as we did fifteen years ago, become apparent. No moving back of course. Our present four-bedroom detached house is probably worth about £230,000 whereas one close to, and identical to, the 1930s semi we left behind in KuT recently sold for £460,000.

I try to conceive of a car-less existence. My weekly French class involves a drive of seven miles along narrow country roads and takes twenty minutes. By bus (into and out of Hereford) would take several hours. Another regular twenty-mile drive ends with an steep uphill mile of shockingly bumpy cart-track. No bus; a taxi driver would baulk at the surface.

A villa in France? No go. Couldn't get to the supermarket.  The Borderlines Film Festival, held in village halls all over the county, would be impossible. Hay Festival too.

Certainly I could afford taxis. But imagine the gloomy prelude and aftermath to what are supposed to be leisure pursuits. Hmmm.

WIP. Hand Signals. "Francine washed up her breakfast crockery, poured out coffee and joined her parents in the cramped space behind the shop counter. These triangular conversations, shared intermittently with the flow of customers, had formed a major part of family life ever since she'd started at university. She'd been too shy to talk aloud at first, fearing she'd be overheard. But her mother had evolved a surreptitious, mouth-corner way of speaking that reduced the exchanges to an inaudible code and Francine now copied her."

Sunday 21 July 2013

Waiting or anticipating?

The most useful feature of an electric toothbrush is the two-minute timer, a nagging device to ensure we meet our dental norms.

Switching to electricity we quickly learn we lack dental conscientiousness. Our unpowered scrubbings didn't last anything like two minutes. I raised this when I discovered VR sang a hymn in her head that she said lasted the requisite period. A very long hymn I averred, as did others.

Can you estimate the passage of time? Because I own a Longines with a beautiful face (a gift from VR), I love looking at it. What time is it now? I ask myself. Often, if time has passed subconsciously, I am surprisingly accurate. But time's passage is elastic. In a doctor's waiting room a mason chips it out in stone. Two hours of The Killing, the Danish TV thriller series, gobbled up the quarter-hours uncaringly.

Looking over my life I note periods of expanded and compressed time. RAF time was all longueurs while the greedy periods between VR emerging off-duty from Charing Cross Hospital at 9.30 pm and her taking the tube home to Finchley Road flashed by.

"Time like an ever rolling stream" says the hymn. But it could be in flood or maybe there's a drought.

WIP Quote from my current novel, Hand Signals. The first para

"WORK at the hospital started at seven-thirty. Francine Embery rose early but not earlier than her mother. As Francine opened the bedroom door the smell of toast rose up the staircase. On the landing, on top of the laundry basket, lay a folded pile of smalls she'd worn over the weekend. Abstracted from her bedroom and hand laundered while she slept. Fran sighed."

Wednesday 17 July 2013

Yes, we had good weather

The hottest day of my life. Well, not quite. That occurred in the former Yugoslavia on a day which did not support life, when even the locals, habituated to the Adriatic furnace, moved so slowly you'd have sworn they were en route to Hell. Where the eighteen-year-old waiter (in a restaurant chosen because it was embedded in a cliff and thus hidden from the sun) took our order for beer without speaking, all energy drained away.

But the day I have in mind - hot enough at 40 deg. plus - touched on Hell in another way. Oradour-sur-Glane, a little township in the Limousin in France, was the scene of a WW2 atrocity and has been left as it was when the last resident died: in a wrecked garage the remains of a pre-war car, a sewing machine visible through a house window.

A banner across the street announced that what remains is a special type of war memorial and exhorted visitors to move about the streets without speaking. The French are famous for disobeying official orders but in this instance they took heed. The oppressive heat seemed to connive with the banner's sentiments.

Away from Oradour we ordered beer but it had no more placating effect than our own saliva. The frozen food department of a supermarket in Limoges provided temporary relief but hardly encouraged us to linger; the store lacked other customers and the girl at the check-out overhung her till like a wilting flower.

Back at the villa we put on our bathing costumes, jumped in the nearby river and I sat on the top of the weir, causing the diverted water to flow over my shoulders. I'd like to pretend to deep thoughts but all I can remember is the physical gratification at having escaped the sun's influence. I have no wish to be facile but the day remains a salutary, unforgettable memory.

Tuesday 16 July 2013

No picture for this one

You are going to misunderstand me. My subject is antipathy - ie, lack of enthusiasm for.

Not because I wish to rain on everyone's parade (I go for novels by John Lodwick, songs by The Carpenters, paintings by Robert Motherwell - all disliked in their own way.). But because antipathy deserves greater consideration.

And because a well-argued antipathy (distinct from an unsupported knee-jerk opinion like "Messiaen is rubbish.") can say more than a preference.

Antipathy often requires courage since it draws fire. Enthusiasm is easier to ignore and tends to conform. There's a good reason for this. Having established a dislike, few people care to go further and answer the question - why? It's thought to be a waste of time. But to answer why to anything  is evidence of reasoning.

Enthusiasm is frequently ill-reasoned. The espouser thinks it's enough to be "for" something - that it's proof of his or her good-heartedness. But contrast these two reactions: For Mozart (Oh, wow! And life rather than death, I suppose?). Against Mozart (What!! This guy's lost his marbles.)

Please note: I am not against Mozart.

BBC Radio 3 is a well-regarded channel devoted predominantly to posh music. By inference it only broadcasts masterpieces. So are masterpieces that prevalent? Did Beethoven's iron grip on genius never falter? Listen to his Scottish songs and make up your own mind. And about Rossini.

Many people fear being publicly antipathetic. They include those who direct BBC Radio 3.

(1) I reduced the argument to music because I needed focus. It works for books, painting, politics, sport, etc.

(2) Antipathy is misunderstood. Possibly because of its associated adjective (anti-pathetic) and its near-homonym (apathy).

Saturday 13 July 2013

Six big letdowns

Disappointing meals are bad meals with a twist. You expected better.

VR and I are never disappointed by meals at the A10 autoroute services south of Paris. They're terrible, worse than those in the UK. But on the A10 we now prepare for terrible (ie, we take sandwiches.) Here are meals we didn't prepare for.

Chitchat Diner, near Princeton, NJ. I'd just finished telling my mother how reliable US breakfasts were when we entered the Chitchat. No food at all; the proprietress was closing down on the morrow. No filter coffee, just instant. As we left, my mother said the prop. had a tragic face. Writers find comfort where they can.

Paul et Virginie hotel, Mauritius. For an international clientele an international cuisine. Like the universal tool it failed in all instances. So bland I can remember nothing except a curry ten times more inoffensive than a korma.

Lunches in general in NZ. Look, I like cheese on toast but we were there for five weeks. Oh, and NZ whitebait consists of tiny baby eels: boiled fishy straw. Be warned.

Well recommended restaurant north of Victoria Station, London, name now forgotten. Meal may have been terrific but all memory has been overlaid by what I recall of the claret (I was hosting a Frenchman). So tannic it tasted like gravel. Prop. tried it and said steelily "a perfectly good Bordeaux." I've been off claret since.

Urban logis in Saumur, France. Guide book probably twenty years old. Highspot was final course - foil-wrapped La Vache Qui Rit cheese paste. No coffee available; had to walk across road.

Tourist hotel (name forgotten), Tokyo. Hundred-year-old eggs. Like yesterday's blancmange.

Wednesday 10 July 2013

Epiphanies are good for you

Imagine you've come upon me mumbling to myself in a corner.

The word count for the fourth novel, Hand Signals reads 11,233. Steady progress but the title will not survive. I'm presently enjoying an epiphany, proof of why I find writing so absorbing and a compensation for the penalties of old age. A 198-word passage, totally unexpected in content, which informs the central character's situation. She is Francine and her name will, I think, stick.

Why am I so keen to write predominantly about women? For traditional political reasons? Yes, but there's more to it. Women seem born to suffer and then to re-emerge. A fancy, no doubt but then fiction is all fancy. Francine suffers unbearably in the first chapter. Physically and spiritually. Then begins the process of re-creation.

Flushed by the onset of the epiphany I turn on my favourite 2 min 46 sec of  YouTube, many times alluded to: Miah Persson and Anke Vondung, doing Soave sia il vento - beauty combined with intelligence and carefully restrained passion.

Back to the keyboard and the epiphany grows. Another favourite: Bach's Wachet auf, tiny choir and tiny orchestra. The sopranos, a rather cosy housewifely trio, leap out and stab me, St Teresa fashion.

Why women? Because, subconsciously, I believe women's approval to be a great luxury. Likely to be hard won. Approval here carries no hidden meaning, simply "favourable opinion or judgment".

Tuesday 9 July 2013

One of life's minor pleasures

I was quite elderly before I became completely spoon-conscious.

This zen-like state is arrived at via an unbreakable rule: that I would never consider using the wrong spoon for four  sets of tasks loosely associated with nutrition.

Achieving spoon-consciousness started with the largest  - technically a table spoon. An elegant object it is made of solid silver, is two-hundred years old, a rare gift from my father. It pings delightfully when struck. Ironically it is employed in the coarsest yet most covert application. Before I wash up the dinner plates I check whether any bits have been left on the meat-carving platter. Because the table spoon - also known as a serving spoon (though only among the middle-classes) - is usually handy I convey these to my mouth. Yes, I know it's big. But you wouldn't expect my mouth to be anything other than capacious, would you?

The cheap white handle on the tea-spoon is important, it aids my incompetent arthritic fingers. The tea-spoon is used exclusively for desserts, mainly for prolonging the ingestion of black-cherry yoghurt - the smaller the spoon, the longer the experience.

The dessert spoon (note the oval-shaped cup) has a very specialised job - ensuring the liquor from a stew or casserole is consumed to the last drop.

The latest and most pleasurable discovery is the soup spoon. Somehow that circular cup enhances soup joy. I am not sure why, other than it allows soup to be sucked up from the side of the spoon as well as its functional extremity. Soup spoons have an obsessional hold on their users. Once used, no alternative is conceivable.

Saturday 6 July 2013

Parental Guidance possible

Can a computer generate sensual experience? Not by regurgitating porno downloads or trawling fifties Hollywood pulchritude, of course. But by just doing what computers do.

The answer is yes. It happened yesterday.

VR's desktop, which was my cast-off, was suffering the electronic equivalent of Cheyne-Stokes breathing - prelude to interment at the dump.

Barry's diagnosis left no doubt: "... very slow boot time...", "... warning message displayed: registry corrupt...", "...could not read disk...", "... probably motherboard intermittently defective..."

My atheism does not extend to failing domestic appliances and I would have allowed it a final go at the B-minor Mass. But it could no longer read disks, poor thing. So I detached  its peripherals, read it the greatest expression of love I know of (Lady P; see home page display above), and bid it goodbye.

Barry's newly built replacement occupied the former tin box so the transition was muted. Then we started to check the features, notably the four USB sockets at the front. My camera was handy so I linked it up.

We were moving towards an epiphany.

The Canon Sure Shot presently has 155 photos on its chip. My desktop, also built by Barry, is still pretty quick. When attached to the camera it transforms the blank panels into photo thumbnails as I scroll down.

VR's new pal does the whole lot - Zap! - in a third of a second. In my book that's sensual, tending towards erotic. I wound down later with a Saint-Romain, a quite pricey white Burgundy.

PIC: The new computer occupies a humble place in VR's atelier. Her other interests are more elaborately displayed.

Friday 5 July 2013

Gosh, I was so lovable

Colin Shindler's book, National Service, said to be a Sunday Times best-seller although I find this hard to believe, is taking me back past my youth, almost to embryonic time: the two reluctant years I spent in the Royal Air Force.

I've posted about this, how I was force-fed electronics which benefited me if not the monarch I ostensibly served. The RAF also showed I was not fitted for communal life. That I hated my fellow men en masse and they - with good reason - hated me.

Two fights developed out of this mutual antipathy. Given I was an unhealthy scribbler, I surprisingly won both of them. But there's a better example of my lack of gregariousness. During technical traning, which lasted eight months, the other trainees had a whip-round to buy a billet radio. I refused to contribute. "But you'll be able to hear it. Not paying your bit is unfair," someone pointed out.

"Hearing it will be my burden," I replied. "It will always be tuned to pop music."

When we'd finished, having passed nearly thirty exams, the others wanted to celebrate their new JT stripes in a group photograph. I refused to join them.

During basic training (square bashing), desperate for a room of my own, I applied to become an officer. I claimed I wanted to lead men but the interviewing officer saw through me. Flustered at the end of our tete a tete I contrived to salute him before donning my beret. He pointed out this solecism and I remained an erk. The anti-mass tendency remains. Faced with a fortnight in Blackpool I'd rather open my veins.

Wednesday 3 July 2013

Beware! This may qualify as serious

Occam's Razor is a principle which holds that the simplest explanation is usually the correct one. Note "usually"; OR doesn't pretend to be irrefutable. But it does appeal to our sense of logic. It encourages us to look for explanations that do not invoke the supernatural.

I myself am attracted to explanations arrived at intellectually. Never more so than when shaving. Simultaneously while trying to decide whether my razor - not Occam's - had much more cutting power left, I pondered my inability to take on board systems based on application of the intellect, ie, philosophy. Nietzsche, Russell, Wittgenstein, Aristotle, that lot. Too hard for my ill-educated brain. Too difficult to hold it all together.

So does that mean that OR rules out philosophy because of its lack of simplicity? No. Despite its appearance philosophy is a written attempt to simplify something that - in its natural state - is appallingly complex. Philosophy is our best shot so far.

But might OR be fatally flawed anyway? Might it, for instance, always favour an explanation based on short-term rather than long-term gains. That the former are easier to understand and appreciate. Simpler, in fact. As a practical example: that it is better to receive than to give.

No again. OR supports simplicity but is not itself simplistic. Differentiating between short term and long term gains will depend on how the question is defined. It is wrong to assume that OR - or any other guidance principle - can proceed from a question put by an idiot.

But by now I had become clean-shaven and chose to devote the rest of the day to pleasure. Besides "pleasure" represents the 274th word of this post.

Tuesday 2 July 2013

Was it all imaginary?

Four experiences belonging to the same country.

I am arriving by small plane. Winter night-time. Dense fog masks the urban contours yet this grey-white mattress is no more than two metres thick. Trees and street lamps without roots push up through the mattress, spines on a painful bed . What on earth can be going on at ground level?

The temperature is minus fourteen. I am alone in the cab of a monster forklift truck. A normal truck, scuttling about an industrial site, typically lifts two tons; this one can lift eighty tons. Cautiously I ease the truck forward fifty metres, select reverse and travel backward fifty metres. Later I expand this event to two hundred words.

It's summer. A ferry is leaving "my"country for another sharing the same coast. We have crossed an inlet, decorated with tiny uninhabited rocky islands of cheerful beauty. Now we are leaving the inlet for the open sea by an equally beautiful rocky gap. Briefly I'm scared, the gap is so narrow, surely this elegant craft will scrape the rocks as it passes by. It doesn't.

Winter again.  Out of my snugly insulated bedroom I move  on deep compacted snow between the pines. Behind the hotel in this silent world is a lake, solidly frozen for several months. I walk out on to this flat surface, keep going, keen to cut myself off from artefacts for a while. Eventually I turn and the distant hotel windows, yellowy-white against black, are knitted in the furry wool used for baby's first garment.

Sweden. I had good professional reasons for travelling there but haven't been back since I retired. I regret that.

Monday 1 July 2013

A way of improving the score?

Death resembles accountancy: someone does the books, adds up the figures and announces that this defunct enterprise is (1) in credit, (2) in balance, or (3) bankrupt, and is now wound up.

Many may be surprised by the arithmetic of their own moral success or failure, may want to argue: I was nice to my neighbours, gave to charity, listened to music by Boulez, brought up sons who didn't go into the City. Failing to acknowledge that this is the one occasion when the accountants - a fallible breed - probably get it right.

I suspect I won't be surprised, that I could do a quick profit-and-loss now that wouldn't be a million miles away from that of the professionals. It's late in the day but is it too late?  Is there a pointer in Matthew 25: 24 - 30?

Two servants, lent large sums of money, double their investments and get pats on the back. The third buries his sum and merely digs it up - unimproved - when asked. He gets it in the neck, is called wicked and slothful and there is talk of casting him "into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."

All very well but I can't pretend I set out with anything worth doubling. My teachers agreed and I left school at fifteen. But what about ambition? I'm ambitious to write better and this has recently intensified. The point is ambition doesn't imply success. My writing needn't necessarily improve. It may be enough that I want it to do so. Oh yes, I realise it's intangible but death's accountants can handle that.

Less metaphorically is ambition (not, of course, at the expense of others) a good thing? More particularly, might it be a specific against old age?