● 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.

Saturday 30 November 2013

Reduced to simple messages

Brother Nick, the youngest of the three of us, has succumbed to Alzheimer and can no longer look after himself alone at home. Sir Hugh visited him in his new "place" and came away greatly saddened. We'll get there somehow but we're much further away.

One terrible affliction is Nick finds himself awash in long tracts of text. Some time ago he asked to see Gorgon Times but was unable to read it; phoned to apologise. Ah, shit; he didn't have to

Having experimented I find I can create picture postcards on the computer. The above is part of a selection based on photos taken in happier times: the three of us on Nick's yacht, Takista, cruising off the south Brittany coast. I'll send them to him with simple messages.

If you click to enlarge you'll see Nick giving me the vee-sign in response to some smart-ass remark I made. I didn't mind a bit but I'd also like to think it represented what he thinks about Alzheimer.

The lack of mushy sentiment here must not be taken for lack of feeling.

Thursday 28 November 2013

With, but not of, the shooters

 When the bus reaches Llanarmon Dyffryn Ceiriog (destination indicator justifiably shortened to Llanarmon DC) it turns round and goes back. In fact it has no option whereas we did. Guided by satnav we came in by ten miles of cart-track high up on the ridge, barely a cars-width, dodging suicidal pheasants.

But then we were there because LDC is remote, even by rural Hereford standards. Did I mention LDC is in Wales? - Pays de Galles sauvage. It is.

The village is tiny yet has two outstanding pubs: we dined and bedded at The West Arms but it's traditional to have a pint or two across the "square" at The Hand Inn. Gradually the bar filled up with men there to shoot the pheasants we'd so carefully avoided. Some in knee breeches, some wearing shoes that may have been made by Lobb of St James. I asked one how many birds he reckoned he'd killed and he was strangely evasive. The landlord of The West Arms explained: "He probably thought you were Animal Rights activists, there to set fire to his Range Rover." I was thrilled to be thought a subversive.

The shooters began cracking very poor jokes which were marked by braying laughter. A disturbing sound and we left them to it. Another group had booked dinner at The West Arms but we ate separately, their maleness inaudible behind sixteenth-century walls. I ate Welsh crab and lamb-shanks, VR had brill. Wales does have some vineyards but there are limits to my ecumenicism. The bottle of CdP had solid worth.

WIP Second Hand (No progress; just blogging)
“The magazine was an anachronism. It dealt with general engineering whereas titles now tend to be more specialised. Its glory days were pre-war, plus a little bump of enthusiasm up to the early sixties. When I took over it had been in decline for more than two decades. Living on the echoes of its past.”

Wednesday 27 November 2013

Placid's better

Stereo's twin channels
Shortish short story, 982 words


“You’re so damn calm,” she said, moving her brand-new suitcase nearer the front door. “No, that’s giving you the benefit: calm can be noble, placid’s better.”

Eye-shadow, too.

He said, “I don’t want you to go.” Ravishing, that was it. “But I’m not such a fool as to stop you.”

“Perhaps you should.”

“That’s bollocks. Worse, it’s conventional.”

She laughed harshly. “Conventional! You read too much.” Now she glanced angrily at her watch. “What are your plans? You don’t have to tell me.”

“Sell the house.”

“Far too big for one. Or for two. Buy a semi, get a nest-egg.”

“There’s that.”

She caught the dying fall. “And…?”

The light in the hallway had a Tiffany shade. It caught his attention, perhaps for nothing other than that she’d bought it. He spread his hands, “Memories. Good memories.”

Briefly she was still.

He was left looking at the door that closed behind her. The stuttering in his throat gave way to tears. Not wanting to move he dried his face on the door curtain.

IT TOOK months, perhaps because he didn’t really want to sell. Semis, he discovered, carried signs. A trampoline in the back garden, a BskyB dish, both enemies of tranquillity. What swung it were fortyish neighbours who lacked dogs and children and who garaged their Audi at night. Crankily he’d taken against couples who filled their garages with cardboard boxes and unwanted furniture.

More time passed, including two weeks in a motel. Then he moved in. With only himself to please he could triangulate his easy chair with his two Quad loudspeakers. One Sunday, having seen Number Fifty-Four drive away together, he played Bruckner and Ives at full stereo. When the Audi returned at seven he switched to chamber music with the wick turned well down.

He nibbled fruit as he listened; meals had become erratic. When Bartok’s fifth came to an end he heard argument through the dividing wall, she sharply monotonous, his voice rising and falling, lurching, it seemed, towards defeat.

That meant they must have heard the quartet. Would the next step be complaints? Life without music was unthinkable and he’d move if necessary. But perhaps it would be worth talking first, to test their reactions.

The man appeared jowly and probably laid down the law in pubs. The wife he had never seen close-up but she had to be more congenial. Monday she was hanging out washing and he walked towards the fence, his mind unprepared, not even knowing her name.

“Er, I say.”

 She shrugged as if irritated.

“I’m Paul Cazalet. Your… neighbour.” He flamed with embarrassment at having stated the obvious. She went on picking pegs out of a basket hanging from the washing line. He said, “I thought I’d introduce myself. And there’s something else.”

She stopped what she was doing but remained in the centre of the lawn. He said, “These modern houses. The walls are so thin. I played music last night. Did I disturb you?”

She held a striped beach towel at odds with her fixed, discouraging expression. God! A matched husband and wife. When she sauntered forwards it wasn’t out of politeness but to scrutinise him as his wife had. To confirm his defects?

Close-up her angular face was hard and full of certainties. The curls in her dark hair were tightly contrived. No hint of friendship. “Isn’t it the other way round?” she said.

“I don’t understand.”

“You heard us.”

“I heard talk, true. It didn’t worry me. But the music might have worried you.”

“You keen on music?”

He nodded and she glanced back at his house. “Music a comfort?” she asked laconically.

He nodded again.

She shook out the towel as if talk were at an end. “We can live with what you play.”

“Live with? OK. But will it be a pain?”

“The lot that had your house were mad on sport.  Telly on most nights. Sport, music – it’s all just noise. We’re used to that.”


“We’re not complaining,” she said, slightly irritated.

He still didn’t know her name. Not that it mattered.

But that was then. At midday the post brought a note from his wife about a shared insurance policy, a fiddling matter. But the curves of her handwriting were painful, evoking the last time in the hallway: seeing her dressed and groomed for someone else. That night, unable to sleep, he passed time idealising his unnamed neighbour’s appearance and manner, knowing what he was doing, knowing what it might lead to. Turning her brusqueness into moral strength, her coolness into sympathy, her tightly permed hair into proof she was sexually aware. Pure fantasy but fantasy was what he needed there and then.

On a hunch that evening he put away the Bartok and played a Schubert trio. Just that. No sound through the dividing wall but mid-morning the following day she knocked on his door, requiring coffee. Noise came in different forms! As he expected, his bedtime fantasy had disappeared completely. Her smoothed-out face had reverted to hollow cheeks and a narrow – now crimson – mouth. The imaginary warmth had cooled. There was only speculation in her brown eyes.

But not for long. Briefly she looked around at the shelves of CDs then finished her coffee quickly. “I won’t stay. No point at the moment.”

“At the moment?”

She smiled thinly. “You’re besotted with music. Convinced it will compensate. When you know it can't, well, we’ll see.”

He was appalled she was so far ahead.

“You seem bloody confident.”

“You’re so obvious. It doesn’t have to be with me, except I’m close at hand. And I’m not shy”

“I don’t even know your name.”

“Why not try Hedda?”

Sheesh! He let her out, saying nothing. Saw the funny side later. But couldn’t see playing Schubert trios day in day out. Felt sure the Brahms sextets would be a goer.

Tuesday 26 November 2013

Unmusic and music

He was a very special kind of cougher, and clearly very ill. His outbursts traversed a frequency range which took perfect advantage of Birmingham Town Hall's acoustic - clear, loud and separate - and they came in three parts. First a staccato Hah, Hah, Hah as if to a joke. Then a liquid gurgle that even now I'm trying to forget. Ending with a clipped, shouted Brow! He's a Brummie. He was present at the last Birmingham concert we attended, this time at Symphony Hall.

VR said "You have to feel sorry for him." but, damn it, it was so hard to do just that.

Last night was all-Brendel even though the great man himself - pianist Alfred - was not there, having retired. Instead we had his son, Adrian (cello) with Alf's best known protégé, Imogen Cooper (piano).

Things kicked off with the Bach cello suite no. 3. All seemed right with the world (ie, I know the cello suites) and only later did I realise the snapshot was incomplete. Lively, sometimes austere, always profound the suites hold back somewhat on what the cello does best: sing. Liszt had no problems in two short accompanied pieces (Elegies ll; Romance oubliée) pared down to the simplest of melodies and "sung" in such an eloquent way you wonder why Liszt ever bothered with the piano.

But it was Rachmaninov's second cello/piano sonata that was the star of the show. No surprises given Sergei’s singing for Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard. There are echoes of the second piano concerto but this is a major work in its own right (which I was hearing for the first time) and it will break your heart just as subversively as it did mine. Not schmaltzy, firm and intelligent.

Sunday 24 November 2013

A literary Bank Holiday

Two hymns from CofE hymnology both sung to the same tune, each containing an (unintentionally) entertaining nugget. The first,  Glory To Thee, My God, This Night,  throws up this:

Teach me to live, that I may dread
The grave as little as my bed

Are you familiar with bathos? - an English language figure-of-speech defined as "anticlimax (esp. literary)  created by an unintentional lapse in mood from the sublime to the trivial or ridiculous." Look no further for an example.

The extract from Awake, My Soul, And With The Sun, is subtler, a collector's item:

Direct, control, suggest, this day,
All I design, or do, or say.

The beginning of a text in A-level philosophy, geometry or carpentry? The French would say it presumes a dirigiste universe. Though being French they would not say who is driving.

THINGS I'M ASHAMED OF BUT WHAT THE HELL An addiction revisited. No one who can tolerate the custard in custard doughnuts can be said to have a palate.

That pungent mixture of esters, valencies and sulphides (I jest. I know nothing of these things.) rules out all informed gustatory comment. So forget my wine recommendations since I secretly relish these caky, chemical sausages. At least I do when I can find them. The nanny state has decided I need protecting from myself and is making them rarer and rarer. Soon I'll be reduced to parsnip purée from a tiny jar.

WIP Second Hand (No recent additions)
Francine smiled indulgently. “You persuaded me about the chin though I'll never quite understand how. But these bony buttresses stand out like geometry: straight lines, no dignity. They're not cheeks in any sense, they're contractions. Bits and pieces plastered in the centre; a cramped collage.”

Thursday 21 November 2013

Life as fiction

The Disconnection
(Shortish short story, 953 words)

The hotel belonged to the nineteenth century when size was a synonym for luxury. Ceilings in the bedroom corridors were abnormally high, apparently supported by huge wood-panelled columns. Despite the grandeur Potterton couldn't help feeling the decor had been left behind, found wanting, irrelevant. He wondered – but only idly - whether the columns were called pilasters.

Archie sat in one of the bar’s easy chairs holding a glass containing what looked like fizzy water. But then he’d been an austere youth and Potterton hadn’t been surprised to learn he’d spent the last decade doing PR in Geneva. Switzerland seemed to fit.

Potterton ordered a pint of Tetley not because he liked it but because it was part of a tradition they were here in Bradford to celebrate.

“I wouldn’t say I’m sentimental,” he told Archie, “but joining the Telegraph as a tea-boy changed my life.”

Archie who’d gone straight into the reporter’s room nodded sympathetically. “They worked you like slaves.”

“Long days, long weeks. I got home exhausted. But I didn’t care. It wasn’t school.”

“School, eh? Not the happiest, gladdest days?”

Potterton scowled. “I never got the hang of it: superiors and inferiors, masters and pupils, clever-clogs and dumbos. What’s more nobody ever told me why school mattered. A new world when I found myself among people who read books, talked about ‘news', wrote ‘stories’. I didn’t need telling those things mattered.”

“Do you remember the smell when you came in through the front entrance?”

“I always thought it was printing ink. Perhaps the presses themselves.”

“For me it was fear,” said Archie.

And Potterton was sure he’d been right to buy the train ticket.

Before the meal the deputy editor read out messages from those unable to attend. One of Potterton’s tea-boy contemporaries, now editing a newspaper in the Midlands, faced a budget meeting. A puckish sub-editor, long retired, had condemned clichés by acting them out; used his letter to rate others according to their acting ability.

As he ate the unexceptional meal Potterton listened to a retired sub-editor and the Halifax district reporter reminiscing about stories they’d handled, witty headlines, people who had wrecked their lives with drink. During a pause Potterton mentioned, concisely, he’d edited an industrial magazine in London for several years. The reporter ignored him; the sub – who had always tended to behave oddly – looked at Potterton vaguely, then resumed talking about writing errors. Later, Potterton bought the sub a Scotch to engage him in conversation but the glass was lost amidst others on the table, some empty, some half full, and it was doubtful the sub knew the Scotch was his.

Potterton looked for other faces he’d known as a tea-boy before he moved from Bradford to Bingley as a trainee reporter. One was a handsome, rather languid man who’d gone on to anchor regional television news in the south-east, becoming a minor TV celebrity. Potterton couldn’t imagine tempting him with industrial factoids; in any case he quickly paired off with another minor celebrity, a former reporter who’d adopted a Scottish name in order to write thrillers.

As conversations were intensified by drink, breaking in got harder. Men, and they were mostly men, who had joked with Potterton when he’d gone out into the city to buy them packets of cigarettes or battered-fish sandwiches from the canteen looked at him, frowning, unable to place him, and in the end not caring. Their behaviour, Potterton realised, was a byproduct of their specialised skill – the ability to decide within seconds what was important and what wasn’t, and thereafter ignore anything that lacked substance.

In the summer he and Archie had met for their own personal reunion and Archie had mentioned tonight’s event. Potterton looked around and saw Archie, animated despite his glass of fizzy water, the centre of a cluster of faces all moderately familiar. He decided trying to join Archie would be disruptive, would break up the bonds Archie had established.

The evening reached its unproductive nadir when Potterton bumped into Vic who’d arrived after the dinner. Vic had been a high-speed typist taking copy over the phone and had had nominal responsibility for the tea-boys. He looked questioningly at Potterton, then shook his head. “Sorry, I don’t remember.”

Potterton ordered himself a Scotch and sat apart from the noisy chat. His expectations had been high. He’d wanted others to help him re-live that magical moment when he’d ceased to be a schoolboy and stepped into the trade he knew, then and now, he was fitted for. But it was clear he’d passed through the Bradford headquarters at a lower, almost invisible level, before moving to Bingley. Tea-boys weren’t important; didn’t linger in editorial memories. His epiphanies were his and his alone, they weren’t shared.

Walking up the ludicrously wide staircase to his bedroom he paused. Descending the stairs slowly - he must by now have been in his seventies – Fred too paused. Then smiled. “Hello Potto. Busy evening. We haven’t had time to talk. Next time perhaps.” Some of the warmth Potterton had hoped for flooded through him. In a subs’ room charged with competition, rapid decisions and incipient humiliation Fred had always been one of the good guys. For years he’d given up Sunday afternoons to teach tea-boys and trainee journalists the basics. Once he’d awarded Potterton  a humbug for a quick 150 words on the subject of fog. Potterton raised his hand in salute as they parted and remembered how Fred, of Welsh stock, had pronounced “accurate” as “ackerut”. An essential word.
Along the upstairs corridor Potterton now noticed other anachronisms: wide mahogany doors, fluted brass wall switches, deep complex cornices. A corridor  immobilised in time and space. A good conduit to an editorial reunion.

Tuesday 19 November 2013

Did I get it right this time?

This is a very dangerous subject. I raised it as a comment years ago and, after a tense half-hour of existence, it was deleted. Yet I feel I need to repay a debt.

I'm talking about Jews. No doubt I've come into contact with Jews in the UK but very rarely as Jews, if you know what I mean. British Jews seem to prefer not to advertise their ethnoreligiosity. Fine by me and I sympathise. Antisemitism is unfortunately still rampant; were I a Jew I might well opt for silence.

Things were entirely different when we lived in the USA. There Jews - and we seemed to meet plenty - were as extrovert about their origins as the Irish. Our elder daughter befriended a Jewish girl at school and her parents invited us to a dinner party. Lobster was served and I was clearly failing to get out the good bits. Ed, the paterfamilias, took my plate and showed me how. "The Brits," he said, "aren't much good at anything these days." I said we were rather good at choosing our servants. Ed roared with laughter and said, "Brits one, Jews zero."

Jews seemed to crop up a lot in American publishing and I began to realise that Jewishness was a far more important element in American humour than I'd realised. Incisive yet self-deprecating, they'd got my number.

A few nights ago BBC4 put out a programme about the Jews' enormous influence on musicals - shows and movies. It was easy to see how the music linked up with Jewish culture. But many of the lyric writers were also Jews.

We'll have Manhattan,
The Bronx and Staten
Island too.
It's lovely strolling through
The zoo.

Lorenz Hart. As I say, a debt of gratitude.

Sunday 17 November 2013

Time discounted

Aldi is a "global discount supermarket chain" originating in Germany. Its range of goods is much smaller than those of the UK Big Four (Tesco, Sainsbury, Asda, Morrison) and its sources, often in Central Europe, are comparatively obscure.  The ambience, once stark, has improved to functional. I go there for the house gin which costs £10 a bottle yet has outscored more expensive brands in a nationwide blind tasting.

Aldi has its attractions but it's short on ceremony.

So, Aldi, mid-morning last week. As I rearranged my shopping bag a man in a striped shirt with cufflinks barked an incomprehensible announcement just behind me. Gradually it became clear this was a Remembrance Day silence. A woman, who must have been about to pay, seemed frozen in time then had her embarrassment enhanced when her mobile went off.

As the silence continued I realised this was a Full Monty two minutes. At the main entrance  a dozen people peered through the glass doors as if into an aquarium. The doors were obviously locked. I approve of Remembrance Day but I'm not sure it should be compulsory.

It seemed apt that retailing should be brought to a halt but, as I say, Aldi hardly evokes moral grandeur. A slightly out-of-synch experience.

WIP Second Hand (48,821 words) 
“Tell me what you’ve learned, then.”

“Ignore  the handout, look elsewhere for the story,” said Francine.


“Provided I remember where the s goes in fuchsia.”

“At least the penalties aren’t as harsh as when you leave a clamp inside.”

“My tutors can make it seem like that.”

Thursday 14 November 2013

Look on my works ye mighty

This is a mean-spirited plaque. It's in Westminster Abbey which is OK although I, as an incorrigible and philistine admirer, would prefer the info laser-beamed against the night sky for eternity. I could say "for infinity" except that the plaque's subject thought infinity (the symbol ∞)  rendered maths equations "unbeautiful".

According to the biography I have just read the plaque is two feet square and that clearly isn't enough. The spare inscription matches the subject's modesty, but see how cramped everything is.

The symbols - how deceptively simple! - depict the relativistic equation for the electron. Like you I remain cut off from the detail but, having read The Strangest Man by Graham Farmelo (himself a physicist), I have the tiniest feel for the equation's importance. More than I expected since Farmelo manages his book without recourse to equations.

The subject is routinely labelled, by people who know, Britain's greatest mathematician after Newton. He is of course Paul Dirac. Genius is not too strong a word.

BLESSED with  phenomenal powers of absorption in my youth I unwittingly committed to memory hundreds of verses from Hymns Ancient And Modern. The verses are full of oddities. For instance:

Ye servants of the Lord,
Each in his office wait,
Observant of His heavenly laws,
And watchful at His gate

“Office" gets me. What about farm labourers? Fishermen? Astronauts? Pole dancers?

WIP Second Hand (47,817 words)
SALADS were difficult, they demanded a knife and fork used simultaneously. Otherwise she found herself stoking unwieldy bundles of lettuce into her mouth, eating cucumber slices singly and tearing up lengths of over-cooked beef with the edge of her fork. Recently she’d experimented with the American approach - dogged and continuous sawing beforehand to reduce the food to bite-sized portions.

Tuesday 12 November 2013

Oughties. Worth a damn? No. 6

THE BRAKE BROKEN Shortish short story (946 words)

She made it easier than he’d any right to expect.

She came into his office quickly, a bright look on her face. Took both his hands  and said, “Frank, please, please don’t apologise. It wasn’t even a shock. Once Space went belly-up the contract was finished. I was last on to the shop-floor, so I’m first out.”

A saw cutting twelve-millimetre tubing went wee-oo-er.

He gestured her to the chair, its straw guts showing. “You worked your own ticket, Terri. You deserved better.”

“Worked my own ticket! I travelled first bloody class! You didn’t even know I was sane when you took me on. An act of charity. A horrible gamble. You taught me the press brake when I didn’t know press brakes from a hole in the ground. And you were so patient. All that five-mil sheet I wasted.”

“Sold for scrap,” he said, then laughed at her liveliness. “I hated what the courts were doing to mothers back then. Jailing them, for Christ’s sake. Their babies dead. I suppose you eased my conscience. Mind you, I wasn’t all that certain press brakes were a feminist gesture.”

She was indignant. “They’re the ultimate gesture. A free pass to the lion’s den. All those glowering males.”

“Well, you had the last laugh. You learned quickly. And not just press brakes, either.” He leant forward across a desk strewn with invoices and quotations, many black-thumbed. “One thing pleases me. Any fabricator with a vacancy would be pleased to hire you.”

“That’s why Terri’s such a useful name,” she said, giggling conspiratorially. “I could be a chap.”

Now he looked at her as a woman rather than an ex-employee. “Not so sure there.” Took in the skin-tight jeans, the breast curves over the tee-shirt. The cleanness! How did she stay clean working with metal? “I did you one favour. Forcing you to put your hair in a bun. That’s a very sexy hairdo.”

“Now you tell me.” She picked up a Tesco bag she’d brought in. “There’s these.”

He made space on the desk and  received two sets of overalls, a vernier gauge, the little toolkit he’d bought her, two pairs of industrial rubber gloves. “Keep ‘em,” he said. “Certainly the overalls. You unpicked them so they’d fit more snugly. I wouldn’t like anyone else wearing them.”

Suddenly he didn’t want to prolong things; felt he was in danger of showing his feelings. He handed over the paperwork with the cheque in a separate envelope. “Two months’ pay,” he muttered, slightly embarrassed. “It’s all I can run to. But I’m sure you won’t need it. You’re employable, Terri. Anyone that thinks you aren’t, have them call me. And don’t be scared of CA systems. Just a morning, that’s all you need. A month and you’ll be programming the damn things.”

He stood up rather too abruptly, stuck out his hand. She rose more gracefully. “Don’t be such a damned Brit, Frank. We can do better than that.”

The desk wasn’t the barrier he’d imagined. Being kissed across it was shockingly arousing as she arched her body forward.

When the door closed behind her he needed time to himself. It was some moments before he realised he was still standing, that he had to instruct himself to sit down. Lunchtime came but his sandwiches stayed untouched. An hour before he’d glanced through the window overlooking the workshop – just between the Favourite Tractors calendar and an imperial-metric conversion chart – a view that took in half the press brake. The machine was unmanned.

He was like a ghost the rest of the week. Unrelated to the world around him. On Friday he decided to resume his routines and called Beryl, as normal, asking if she’d like a drink or two at the British Legion. They sat together, she a widow, he a widower, an asymmetry that the passage of time might resolve. He forced himself to chat but it wasn’t working. She said comfortably, uncomplainingly, “I half-promised my niece I’d take over her baby-sitting.”

“Sorry I’m such a dead weight. I’ll drive you where you need to go. But we’ll go via the workshop. I’ll pick up my laptop.

Not wanting to open the car-park gates he parked on the road. Approaching the flat-roofed building he saw the door was ajar. Spotted a flash of light from within. His office door was wide open.

The laptop stood on the floor beside her. She squatted, her legs nicely angled, working the dial on the small floor safe. He’d made no sound but she sensed him. Turned with a wintry look.

“It’s Friday,” she said, “you take Beryl out on Fridays.”

“I bore her, it seems.”

“I wish to hell this hadn’t happened.”

He nodded. “Two months’ pay wasn’t enough, then?”

“All gone. Paying off debts. My ex left me screwed.”

“You don’t need this. You’re employable.” He paused. “Also, fabrication’s a man’s world. Chances are you’ll find another impressionable manager like me.”

“Not like you, Frank.”

He shrugged. She said, “I wanted this to be an anonymous robbery. I need the money and you were all I could think of. Now you and the money are in hell. Even worse, you won’t call the police.”

“I won’t?”

“Not the way you feel. Whereas I… no, I’d never convince you. I could prove it, of course. Cut my throat. Stick my head in the milling machine. Futile.” Her expression was still wintry, quite hopeless. “But I’d do it, kill two birds. Prove the point, solve the problem. You’re a decisive man, Frank. Guide me.”

“The combination’s 26-53-74-19.”

“Shit, Frank, is that good news or bad news?”

“You’re pretty clever. Work it out.”

Monday 11 November 2013

Who needs lit.crit?

My tattered Ulysses is now a non-working monument, the words contained slimly in my Kindle, their weightiness (avoirdupois) diminished, their literary weight unaffected. But my re-read, the fourth or fifth, has been delayed. VR is presently following the 22-CD audio integrale. A few minutes ago Private Carr punched Stephen Daedalus's mug and gentle Leopold Bloom picked up the pieces. I came upstairs reluctantly.

Never mind me. Why don't I hand over to John M. Woolsey, US district court judge, who in 1933 lifted the ban on Ulysses, claimed to be too raw for American sensibilities.

Woolsey read Ulysses "once in its entirety" and "the passages of which the Government complains several times." He admits it is not an easy book to read or understand.

"Joyce has attempted - it seems to me with astonishing success - to show how the screen of consciousness with its ever-shifting kaleidoscopic impressions carries... not only what is in the focus of each man's observation of the actual things about him but also... past impressions, some recent and some drawn up by association from the domain of the subconscious."

Woolsey adds that by being loyal to his technique and not funking its implications Joyce has been misunderstood and misrepresented. The "dirty" words are old Saxon words, well-known to men and "I venture to many women."  Nevertheless there is no "dirt for dirt's sake".

Legally, does Ulysses "stir the sex impulses"? Woolsey checked his impressions with two respected friends and they agreed with him. The book is not pornographic and its "net effect on them was only that of a somewhat tragic and very powerful commentary on the inner lives of men and women".

Ulysses is "a sincere attempt to devise a new literary method for the observation and description of mankind". Good on yer, judge.

Sunday 10 November 2013

The refuge of a scoundrel. Pt. 2

This questionnaire aimed to check whether Powell's A Dance To The Music Of Time series of novels suited the applicant's tastes. I have widened its scope and may provide Anglo-psycho-analysis for those brave enough to respond

● If taken ill in, say, Stratford-on-Avon would you accept medical help from a hospital run on what you considered to be socialistic principles, or prefer to die?

● Do you think Shakespeare is a good or bad thing? If "Good", give three nouns, chosen for their originality, supporting this preference. If “Bad” write as much you dare.

● With a gun to your temple, would you be prepared to eat stuffed heart?

● Define, to the nearest nano-litre, the amount of vermouth in a perfect dry martini.

● What is the recommended speed (♪ = ?) for rendering La Marseillaise?

● Soccer: Vital, Intermittent, “I would rather open my veins.”

● Have you ever used the adjective "parthogenetic" verbally?

● In written form?

● Have you ever posed the question "Er, pardon me, did the Reformation come before or after the Renaissance?" in any European gallery?

NOTE: Be honest. Don't try to divine the questionnaire's intentions. Rationale and "correct" answers ina fortnight.

WIP Second Hand (47,817 words)
As Jennie and Ibanez entered the lounge Francine was struck by the way they matched each other. Both expensively dressed, he in his subtly textured Mao suit, she too in a two-piece, coloured a delicate light brown, halfway between rural and urban. How assured, how adult, they looked, moving with equal grace. While she sat awkwardly, her slung arm across her at an odd angle, her uncertainties probably evident on her spiky face. She the baby of the trio. Waiting to be ministered to by one, protected by the other. The fear latent and unspecified.

Saturday 9 November 2013

Hey, you're a consumer now

When I started work in Pittsburgh on January 2 1966 my nearest were still in the UK. I was alone, living at the Y. Never YMCA, by the way, always "the Y". Later I was to attend recitals at "the Jewish Y".

Not really alone. The whole of suburban Pittsburgh, both genders, all levels of income, took me to its collective bosom. Guiding me not to parade my atheism, not to reveal I'd belonged to a leftie trade union, not to pronounce it schedule instead of skedule (They failed; some out of pure transatlantic good-heartedness adopted my pronunciation), not to sign cheques with an illegible signature.

Most of all they urged a more generous attitude towards spending. They were horrified when I bought second-hand paperbacks; thought I'd catch something. Alarmed when I looked at apartments in "unsuitable" areas. Appalled I'd gone for a party-line telephone. Laughed helplessly when I furnished a bedroom and a lounge with a package costing $300 (£187).

They couldn't understand why I was delaying getting a TV because I lacked the money. Some lurched away when I bought US wine at the state liquor store. Hard liquor they understood; to them wine = wino.

I'm in danger of sounding ungrateful. Those same people took me to ball-games, invited the family to barbecues, introduced us to take-away pizzas (both take-aways and pizzas were quite novel), offered to lend me money when I had to fly home for my mother's funeral, and agonised over the fact that our younger daughter - born over there - hadn't been christened.

But I'd moved from the world's most expensive city where poverty was chronic. Adjustments took time and some never happened. Our daughter flew back to the UK in 1972 still unchristened.

Friday 8 November 2013

It's what your legs are for

Remember the Golden Age? You don't? How about an all-purpose British Golden Age?

There's crusty bread, England beating Germany at soccer, Forsyte Saga on telly, corner shops full of chat, steam engines, doctors making house calls, an Austin A35 in your driveway, Sam Kydd in his hundredth movie, empty roads, beckoning beaches, trustworthy bobbies, rosy-cheeked milkmen, newspapers without swear words.

Someone on The Goon Show prophetically saying: It's great to be alive - in nineteen fifty-five.

Now you remember. Wonderful. Truly golden. Whoops, I've forgotten one thing: queues (US: lines).

Queues encircling cinemas, queues (in effect) standing in train corridors, sitting-down queues in doctor's waiting rooms, outside fish-and-chip shops, for cheese, for bacon, for fireworks, for going in, for coming out. Definitely the Golden Age of Queues.

Computers? Wouldn't have one in the house. I remember when you waited an hour to renew a car disc. When you saw the main feature film minus ten minutes. When buying half a pound of butter took quarter of an hour. When you "booked" a long-distance call to Liverpool. When you didn't know How? or When? and had to wait a whole weekend to find out.

I read that physicists rarely cite gold illustratively because gold isn't atomically interesting. Tell you what: add me to that long queue of physicists.

WIP Second Hand (Still 47,571 words.
I’ve been blogging like mad)
“It won’t be good news.” Francine shook her head vigorously. “What am I saying? It’s your house. Forget what I said.”

“Not if it worries you. But I think I need to know why.”

“Let me see outside.” Francine got up, created a tiny gap between the curtains. “Hell and damnation. A Morgan in the driveway.”

“Is that significant?” asked Jennie.

“My past life come to haunt me.”

Wednesday 6 November 2013

The refuge of a scoundrel? Pt. 1

I had three goes at Anthony Powell's twelve-volume series, A Dance to The Music of Time, and failed each one. Mainly due to his appalling writing style (eg, His manner of asking personal questions was of that kind not uncommonly to be found which is completely divorced from any interest in the answer.), an upper middle-class avalanche, and a huge cast of characters.

The key turned with vol. 10 (Books Do Furnish a Room), once I discovered how that memorable title came into being. Since then I've read the series two or three times.

Why did I persist? Well, Evelyn Waugh liked the books and reviewed the later volumes as they appeared. For another they are genuinely funny but indirectly, as with Proust's great series which Powell admired. Funny in an English (note: not British) way, often very cruel: for instance, an academic has a stroke at a formal dinner and comedy emerges from the way others react. Vols. 6 - 8 (The Kindly Ones, The Valley of Bones, A Soldier's Art) contain a sharp and frequently mordant account of our country at war. And, overtopping everything else, the series gives birth to one of the greatest fictional creations ever: Widmerpool.

It's a decade since I last read the books and my judgment may be deliquescing. But - how peculiar! - they make me quietly proud to be English. Foreigners (and many Anglos) who have tried and failed may be astonished and outraged by that. In my defence I can only say I am not and never have been a natural patriot; National Service taught me not to be.

Would I recommend the series? Only I fear after receiving satisfactory responses to a set of questions/tests. In short: no. But if your curiosity is aroused, well, let's take partners. 

Tuesday 5 November 2013

I've gone down with atavism

Barrett Bonden, mechanic-in-chief of my previous blog, Works Well, now lives in a Hastings retirement home, reading Scientific American. His grease-stained overalls hang on my atelier door; occasionally I don them as a pervert might his mother's wedding dress. Here's such an occasion.

MikeM, new to the Tone Deaf parish, asks if I have any thoughts on the Wankel engine. I do. I was working on Cycling and Mopeds when it was launched and one of my colleagues was present at that launch. "There's going to be problems sealing the gap between the piston and the cylinder," he told me. So it turned out.

Very odd, the Wankel. The piston is triangular and rotates in a figure-of-eight shaped cavity - hence the adjective, epitrochoidal. Unlike the reciprocating piston (ie, goes up and down) in a conventional engine, the Wankel piston rotates, with an inner planetary gear ensuring it follows its figure-of-eight path. Rotary motion is more efficient than reciprocating motion. This means the Wankel can go faster, engine speed being a measure of power developed.

One racing motorcycle used a Wankel. Bike races are divided into different engine capacities (1000 cc, 500 cc, etc) and people argued about whether the Wankel had three cylinders or one. Eventually the authorities agreed it had one and the bike cleaned up. Fin.

WIP Second Hand (47,571 words)
(Francine  said) We were fiercely and silently competitive. When a friend of mine got a B in the biology mocks I was secretly pleased. What a wretch I was. Yet we never boasted. It was a given that we were all looking for inhumanly high grades.  I had a single boyfriend during secondary education and he was just as much a zombie as I was. Disappearing finally into particle physics.

Monday 4 November 2013

Perhaps I should bellow louder

A moment of gloom? A time to be philosophical? Goodbyes in the air?

Beth (Cassandra Pages) and Lucy (Box Elder), two bloggers whose stuff I read assiduously, have within the week referred to a  falling-away of blog comments. Lucy hints at the withering away of blogging itself, swamped by Facebook and tweeting.

And I thought it was just me! A month or so ago I posted on a somewhat personal topic and got zero response. Something of a first.

The paradox with Tone Deaf  is that I have disabled the hickie which includes my own visits to the blog and pageview stats are going up and up. The five short stories posted over the last two months scored especially well.

Neither Facebook nor tweeting appeal. I support brevity, hence the 300-word limit, but I'm not into Post-Its. For me blogging is writing or nothing, although writing which no one reads can be uphill.

For what it's worth I'll keep doing what I have been doing, bellowing down the well until the absence of echo confirms that there's no one out there. Then probably write some more.

WIP Second Hand
(46,359 words)
In Merton Park, just off Erridge Road, amid vistas of thirties semis as economically remote to Francine as Eaton Square, Fairholt Road mouldered like a graveyard of late Victorian architecture. Three structures – semis but too massive, grey and mournful to be recognised as such – awaited time’s equivalent of the abattoir’s fixed-bolt. Kindly destruction and crass re-development.  Houses that had passed the point at which dilapidation ceases to be passive and becomes pell-mell. In three frontages embracing a total of twelve bow-fronted windows, four gravestone window ledges had given way to subsidence and broken in the middle – like permanently dribbling eyes of the very old.

Sunday 3 November 2013

That wondrous work

Pet owners gradually resemble their pets, it is said. But what about car owners and cars?

BMW A medieval link here - an instinctive belief in droit de seigneur. True, maidens escape depucelation but drivers assume an absolute right to go first at T-junctions, to overtake on roundabouts, to take the only parking space, etc. I know. I owned a BMW. Traces of its influence still linger.

AUDI Now challenging BMW for the seigneurial role. Never seen travelling at less than 90 mph on motorways. I owned one of these too. A coupé yet. Say no more.

VOLVO The safe large ones. Car of preference for managers of funeral homes. The automotive expression of - in the midst of life we are in death. Always black.

SUZUKI SWIFT Very small women. Without a substantial cushion drivers are doomed to see life through the steering wheel.

LAMBORGHINI Wealthy people on a diet. Getting into and out of these subterranean cars constitutes the owner's sole exercise.

MORGAN Bald men over fifty who endured a circumscribed childhood and are unaware the car top is erectable.

SSONGYANG Therapeutical transportation for those with speech defects.

SKODA Octavia with turbo-charged diesel engine and six-speed auto/manual gearbox. Men who believe they are at Level 5 (Jacques, etc) but who are in danger of leaving Level 6 behind.

Poets and others uninterested in movement.

WIP Second Hand (46,129 words)
His clothes were casual but they involved a degree of calculation. Light beige chinos with an expensive shirt, tailored to show off the flatness of his stomach and the pinch of his waist. Hair styled to look ragged. On the walls enlarged photographs of bridges… Bookshelves but no books. Why bother when a mouse got there quicker than flicking pages?