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Tuesday 25 February 2014

My name is Tarzan, Mr Tarzan

Tarzan movies were the b&w jungle equivalent of James Bond on a thousandth of the budget. To keep costs down some scenes were repeated movie to movie. The Tarzans, a sort of nuclear family, occupied a ranch house halfway up a very large tree and passed their days entirely free from intellectual diversion. Mr and Mrs Tarzan appeared to be clad scantily and uncomfortably in leather. Their strangely pudgy son, Boy, had blonde curly hair, wore leopardskin trunks and had clearly been born on the wrong side of the blanket. The pet, a chimp, was ironically called Cheetah but no one commented on this.

Conflict was generated by (I’m a bit hazy on this) Nazis, much more suitably clad in safari suits. The Nazis manipulated the locals who were shockingly stereotyped and had bones through their noses. The locals played tom-toms and did very little else.

Mr Tarzan got around in two ways: swimming splashy racing crawl or by swinging and jumping from conveniently positioned lianas. Identical footage of these activities always reappeared. Before reaching for a liana Mr Tarzan ululated (Wiki: a long, wavering, high-pitched vocal sound resembling a howl with a trilling quality.)

In all the Tarzan movies I saw Mr Tarzan was required to wrestle and stab to death a rubber crocodile. This scene (always repeated) took place in a tank of muddy water which made it difficult to follow the action.

Little changed from movie to movie. Once and once only we were tantalised with details of the water system supplying the Tarzans’ kitchen. A vertical endless conveyor built up from dozens of short bamboo tubes. Sum total of the Tarzans’ imagination.

For me the series ended with Tarzan in New York. Mr Tarzan wore a suit and Cheetah went into care.

Saturday 22 February 2014

Who are these people?

The answer seemed obvious,

Here's the situation. Matinee concert at Birmingham Symphony Hall: hall (seats 2262) at least 75% full; stalls (£26 a pop) almost 100% taken; programme* close to classical (ie, posh) MoR; average age (cf. the greyness of the heads) about 65.

Question. How many present are music lovers? The knee-jerk answer is surely all of them.

Why anything other? Unlike a play, music concerts operate in a language not understood or appreciated by everyone and there are few visual diversions. You can't pick and choose as in a gallery. There's no story as with a play. Other than at the interval there are no chat opportunities as at a restaurant.

Just the cognoscenti? I had my doubts. The figures don't compute. The listening figures for BBC Radio 3 are tiny and that's a nationwide service. Sales of posh CDs are way down and many famous names are out of contract. Note how much space serious newspapers allocate to posh music.

But what do I know? I'm a rank amateur. I asked M who knows posh music back to front, has solo-ed the Mozart clarinet concerto. She thought then nodded. "By no means everyone."

But why do they come? I asked. It's expensive, you're required to remain immobile and silent for sometimes an hour at a time, it's a fuss.

M said: an afternoon out, a family habit, better than staying at home and watching the wallpaper if you’re retired, a sense of elite community, can lead to advantageous name dropping.

No wonder poppers think the posh lot are weird. No wonder my kids indulge me.

* Magic Flute overture, Mozart pno. cto 24, Elgar first symphony.

Tuesday 18 February 2014

Also called confectionery

In the USA it's candy, a word I could never accept; here in the UK, sweets. News, updates, views.

Toffees (unqualified).
Small rectangular blocks, wrapped in Cellophane before entirely cool. Distorted shape hinders unwrapping. Possibly obs.

Chocolate ├ęclairs. Toffee shell, milk chocolate interior. Mustn’t suck. Designed for extreme dento-tactile sensation when crushed by teeth.

Aniseed balls.
Disappointing concept. Red/brown outer colour has strong flavour but is quickly sucked away; remainder (white) is duller. Choking hazard; ball could break teeth. Sucking mandatory.

Licorice allsorts.
Continuing favourite but causes adult doubts ("Are they for children?") Some multi-layered designs include dark brown layer; taste redolent of compost.

Sherbet lemon. Hard, lemon-flavoured, crystalline shell containing "fizzy" sherbet powder. As if to justify creation of a new word, "lessish", an antonym to "moreish".

Quality Street. Mixture of toffee, toffee/chocolate, chocolate/fudge, chocolate/fruit "jam", chocolate/nut, etc, designs. Presumably aimed at wide preferences but certain formats (eg, chocolate/fruit "jam") are always consumed last.

Jelly babies.
Popular if almost flavourless. Moral worry to parents who read The Guardian (ie, Cannibalism?)

Fruit gums. Two types: flexible with sugar coating; much harder discs with impressed "chequerboard" pattern. Time-taken-to-consume ratio: five to one.

Humbugs. Once toffees with adult levels of mint flavour, now less mint and sweeter. Consistency changed from firm to pulpy.

Acid drops.
Phased out because of DEA pressure?

Mints. Huge range: from powdery discs resembling medication to elegant mini-loaf shape in transparent material (Cleverly named: glacier mint.)

Chocolate bars.
Elaboration almost always fails: eg, Aero (bubbled interior), Fry’s “Sandwich”? (Milk chocolate “bread”, dark chocolate “meat”)

Note: Dark chocolate morally superior to milk chocolate.

Note: French sweets - many detail differences vs. UK brands, almost always for the worse.

Friday 14 February 2014

A very rare event


Many years before St Valentine’s Day 2014

Dedicated to all women: the interested, the empowered, the uninterested, the instructive, the one who married me, the dismissive, the one who bore me, the topers, the ones who became my offspring, the singers, the whingers, those met and unmet. E&OE

So young they were that day, alas,
Youth turns me off.
That need for love self-evident,
A sulk so meet for those slack mouths.

Their badged lapels a substitute
For grown-up talk.
Their icons passing for an argument,
The code quite clear. But do I care?

Then: Pow! There’s proof of politics,
Perhaps a plan.
For what seemed rude democracy
Unveils the wedge of leadership

Wearing a stripe of matelot,
A knitted cap,
She darts among us like a beak,
Seeking the worm of innocence.

The eye as claw, the glow, ah yes,
She’s drawn me in.
Others joke, suggest a beer for her -
All male of course - they miss the point.

She sits down near, her hand upraised,
To touch her badge.
Guessing perhaps I know the code,
Noting also my consciousness.

That glow, that ripe expectancy,
Is all I need,
Tell me, I say, all schoolboyish,
Convert me to your great belief. 

Thursday 13 February 2014

The problem with baddies

More sexism last night. Couldn't have been more sexistic. Mozart's Don Giovanni transmitted from the Royal (May my left hand strike my right.) Opera House, Covent Garden to wind-and-rain girt Hereford. We've seen half a dozen other versions; this was modified beneficially (cutting out the anticlimactic "survivors" scene) and malignantly (failing to match the words to the actions).

But this isn’t about opera technicalities. What should we make of the Don? He emerges from  Donna Anna's bedroom after she raises the alarm; in most versions he is coitus interruptus but fulfilled in this case. He stabs to death DA's dad, sneers at Donna Elvira whom he bedded after getting engaged to her for just that purpose. Tries to seduce peasant girl Zerlina on her wedding eve. Puts his servant Leporello at death's risk. But here's where it gets difficult.

He meets the ghost of DA's dad and invites him to supper. Dad turns up and returns the invitation - ie, for a final supper in Hell. The Don refuses to recant his life, accepts Hell, suffers.

There is a modern-day parallel. Most of the condemned Nazis died well on the gallows at Nuremberg. Yet none has a soft spot for them. With the Don we're equivocal. Some (All men?) have a sneaking admiration. Quite unjustified. This wasn't roguishness; the Don was a hoodlum. Go figure.

WIP Second Hand
(57,251 words)
That last occasion in his bed with the black sheets. “Diabolical,” she had said, and he’d laughed uncertainly even though there’d been nothing uncertain about what followed. The sex had been simultaneously rewarding and disturbing. Prolonged and invasive.  To the point where his desire to please had obliterated her sense of self.
Note: If I've posted this extract before the reason's forgetfulness, not obsession.

Wednesday 12 February 2014

Custard karma

Married couples find "surprise" gifts almost impossible to devise. If either of us has a need or a whim we don't hang around. Time isn't on our side. The mutu-gift (opera DVDs, champagne) is one solution.

That leaves the "mini surprise" – something  cheap  to be opened on the day. This Christmas I bought VR a bottle of Advocaat, a Dutch liqueur that looks like, and tastes like, alcoholic custard. How strange, you say. Aren't the Rs pinot noir fans? He's finally off his rocker.

I mentioned this to younger daughter, Occasional Speeder, and she knew why I'd done it. So did VR opening the wrapping.

Edna, VR's mum, liked Advocaat. Over several evenings we drank the yellow stuff (Don't think booze, think dessert) and reminisced about her.

In pre-credit-card days I found a suit in Folkestone (Edna's home town) but they wouldn't take a cheque. Edna said hang on, disappeared upstairs, handed me over the requisite cash.

Suspicious of anything new, Edna had problems visiting us in Pittsburgh. Yet I told her she'd like whisky sours and she did. Not too inflexible.

Regarding the US Edna believed I was kidnapping her daughter and grandchild (Professional Bleeder). Yet looked after PB for a fortnight during our valedictory tour of Europe.

I didn't like my Dad much. However, introduced to Edna at our wedding, he said: "I bet you could still get into your wedding dress." Edna just managed to suppress her (favourable) reaction, knowing it was true.  Briefly I approved of my Dad.

Like most young married couples living in London we were desperately poor. But on return journeys from Folkestone in our hideous Austin Cambridge there was always comfort on the back seat: a leg of lamb, chicken, brisket.

Monday 10 February 2014

Oughties. Worth a damn? No. 8

Full English
Short story (948 words)

Only those without mobiles used the phone booth on the corner. Usually she was in and out quickly, beating the cold. Not tonight. He looked about twelve, whining as well he might. “Some bastard stole it,” he said. “Out uv mi hand. On the bus.”

There was more about clubbing on Friday night although he hardly seemed old enough. June hugged her anorak round her shoulders; winced as he slammed down the handset.

Dave the ex was prompt. “Bad news for you. Sheila and I got that flat in Sparkbrook.”

“Sparkbrook! Three bus rides for me.”

“Alex will have his own room. His own telly.”

“How will I ever see him?”

Dave grunted.

Back in her room over the bookie’s she opened her mini-fridge and touched the repaired plastic shelf. It held. She slid in a tin of Value baked beans. Still it held. Slid in another and heard a shocking crack. Super glue, she thought; but it costs. I need the fridge space; with no shelf there's only half the capacity. Piled food gets messed. Especially steak pies, cut into quarters and spun out over four days.

The television had been mute for months. She listened to a Radio Four adaptation of Joanna Trollope’s novel about village lesbians. Dreaming up faces for the voices but resenting the posh tones. Twin-set women. The story held her interest but cold tightened round her hips. Wrapping herself in the duvet she knew it was too late; there wasn’t enough heat in her body to retain. Bed was the only option. Breaking the late night rule she tried transferring heat by washing her hands and face. Then to bed.

Dark and freezing when she woke. At five-thirty, wearing four layers of clothes, including pyjamas, she entered the newsagent’s by the back door, sorted  papers and walked silent streets pushing copies of the Daily Mail against hard-sprung letterbox flaps. Janusz was waiting by the bus-stop, the SUV breathing white vapour from its exhaust, the trailer crusted with frost.

Driving to the layby Janusz, who rarely spoke, glanced and said. “You ill, Missie.”

“Cold. Sleepy.”

“No, no. Brown, under eyes. Pale. You not eat.”

Her fingers had been too clumsy for the toaster. She said, “Two slices of bread and I-Can’t-Believe. Too early to eat.”

“You lose your looks.”

“Looks! You’re shitting me.”

“You OK lady. If you wash your hair.”

“The court gave custody of the kid to my ex. Said I was irresponsible. Why not act the part?”

Lorry drivers waited in the layby, stamping, impatient. Janusz fried eggs and piles of streaky bacon on the trailer’s hob; heated tinned tomatoes in the microwave. June took orders, handed out change; soon Janusz’s English would be good enough and, she supposed, he’d drop her. Warmth from the gas hob reached between her shoulder-blades.

Two-ish, ten minutes after the last Mondeo, Janusz turned off the gas and started cleaning the hob. June walked the layby picking up paper napkins and polystyrene trays smeared with ketchup. Just after three Janusz pulled up in the centre of town by an easel sign: The Great English, Six AM to Ten PM.

“Eat, Missie, eat,” he said.

“If there’s time.”

Mrs Pickerill, at the till, spoke quietly to avoid being overheard. “I’ve got to be fair. This time you sweep up, Sharon serves.” June nodded. No doubt Sharon had complained about being given the broom too often. Sharon liked to engage diners but not everyone enjoyed her chat.

Mid-afternoon, the trickle of customers was shepherded to one end of the dining room while the other was swept. The ends were then reversed. Not ideal, especially since Sharon worked noisily, but the health inspector had spoken.

Sharon sauntered over. “He’s not here today, you know.”

He was Brett from Australia with the surfer’s hair and the logistics skills of a worker bee. Once he’d created seventeen full English breakfasts, with fried bread, all on the tables within ninety seconds serving time.

June nodded. “His first day off for two weeks.”

Sharon hadn’t known that; flounced away.

Later, with Sharon in the store room, Mrs Pickerill said, “She didn’t tell you. Sharon I mean.”

June said, “Tell me?”

“Brett said call him. About now.”

“Call him?”

“Here’s his mobile number. Use the office phone.” Mrs Pickerill frowned. “That Sharon!”

In the corridor outside the office June stopped. Looked at the slip of paper, pondered, rolled it into a ball and put it into her pocket. Walked back to the dining room.

By five-thirty the fried leftovers for the staff break were black and unidentifiable.  June ate three unsullied tomatoes, drank half a mug of tepid coffee and went into the alleyway for a cigarette. Wearied, leaning against the wall, she was joined by Brett, tall, gilded and perplexed.

“You didn’t call.”

“Did I have to?”

He laughed. “Serves me right. Uppity Oz.”

She liked that. “This morning another foreign male told me I looked ill, didn’t wash.”

“Heck, most Poms look ill to me. Pom hygiene? I’ve learned to live with it. Perhaps I’m just not picky.”

Liked that too.

He added, “You want to eat tonight?”

She nodded.

“Why the delay? Why didn’t you call? I could have booked the Chink place. Stays open late.”

She sighed. “You may not understand.”

“Try me.” His voice softened. “I like you. Mucky hair and all.”

Perhaps he would understand. “I guessed it was a meal. But calling you meant I had to make the decision. I’m starving. But I didn’t want that to be the reason.”

“Me asking you? That made it OK?”

“Stupid, eh?”

“Oh yeah, very stupid. Any other tests I need to take? I don’t mind. Straight.”

Friday 7 February 2014

Help me out. please

I have a problem.  I would appreciate views (especially from women), be they profound or glancing.

Mid-19th century Robert Schumann published a song cycle Frauenliebe und -leben (A woman's love and life). To me the music is utterly lovely but the lyrics (in German) are thought sexist. "Irrefutably," insists The Guardian - not alone in this matter.

I take women's rights seriously and try to reflect this in my novels. Yet almost every decent diva has recorded these songs. Listen to the grave, yet impassioned Helen Watts, the first version I heard:


Careful, you may catch my infection.

By sexist we're not talking boobs, asses, slags or other laddisms. Rather applause for women who willingly lose themselves in men. Here are extracts from the most suspect eight songs:

FIRST SONG I have no wish to join
My sisters with their playthings;
I would far rather go and weep
Quietly in my room

SECOND To watch from where I stand’s enough
To experience utter bliss and sadness, too.

An ordinary girl, nothing to you,
You star of all that’s marvellous!

THIRD Here cradled on his breast,
Embracing death with happiness,

FOURTH I want to serve and live for him,
To be his own by right,
Freely give myself to him,
Transfigured by his light

FIFTH You stand before me,
Shall I reflect your radiance?
Then, let me bow my head
In all humility

EIGHTH (Husband dies)
So I withdraw into myself,
Quietly draw down the veil;
There I will find the joy I’ve lost,
You, my whole world, without fail.

Copyright © 2014 Uri Liebrecht

You get the idea. Is there room for such doormat sentiments in the twenty-first century? Does the text corrupt the notes? Should I go on listening?

Wednesday 5 February 2014

WALK 9. Eskdale - Oblivion

You've read modern novels so you know the anti-hero: a character who goes to the lavatory a lot, hates Mozart (Sir Kingsley's conceit outlives him), steals the widow's mite, and - mostly in foreign novels - tops his girlfriend.

These ten posts are devoted mainly to the anti-walk. Walks that fail, that pass through towns (and therefore don't qualify), that are undertaken for unhealthy reasons, that offend Kraft durch Freude. Since Walk 10 deals with walking as opposed to a walk, I thought I'd make Walk 9 upbeat. A hero's walk that matched the exploits of Sir Hugh and the Blondes.

There's a problem. I am not cut from heroic fabric; an ex-journo, very low in the social order. Thus I  tell this tale unheroically; readers shouldn’t be invited to worship false gods.

The itinerary was linear. I started at the western end of Eskdale in the Lake District, walked east over Wrynose Pass into the Duddon valley, over Hardknotts Pass into Langdale, turned left and up Stake Pass, walking as if comatose I took a brief bus ride, crossed Honister Pass towards Buttermere. Slept in a barn.

It rained and misted, there was nothing to see and soon I hardly differed from the beasts of the field. When I sat down, my legs - like those amputated from a frog - continued to walk. Hoping I’d covered 25 miles (that's how it felt) I consulted a map and was disappointed. Sixteen miles seems to stick although the four passes added grief. The bus (no more than two miles) and the modest mileage precluded boasting. The walk was heroic in the sense that ditch-digging* can be considered heroic. Thus, ultimately, an anti-walk. So I lied.
* See second thoughts on this in comments

Monday 3 February 2014

Come on Judah; burst your chains

West Indies Lady, Grishkin de nos jours, has left a card
Inviting interest in her trade. She’s up to modern tricks,
Confusing me with talk of Frenching. Doubt I’m into that,
But might be tempted to enrol in paid-for discipline.

Bondage is listed but, Dear Lady, that’s not what I need,
I’d much prefer you tutored me on techniques of escape.
My malady consists, they say, of choosing prison’s bars,
Disdaining freedom; watch and see me throw away the key.

When asked to walk I’ve done so with a military step,
Restricted to the rhythms of four hundred years ago,
My doublet is a couplet and it nicely turns the verse,
The rasp of sagbut celebrates its regularity.

Forget my love of rules, they say, take to the air and fly
Unshackled, trusting to the chaos of mad liberty.
The lines may vary like the very isobars of life,
Unsettled as I am today, tomorrow I may shine

West Indies Lady, tell me more of how this discipline
Of yours works in a world where freedom is perforce prescribed,
Where ruleless rules can guide and airiness, somehow, contain,
And all for fifty quid, up front, and on the mantelpiece.

Sunday 2 February 2014

WALK 8. Shipley - Heaton

A failure which cost me money. We'd planned to do rock climbing on Ben Nevis, Britain's highest mountain (Heh, heh. It's in Scotland). We pitched our two tents below - me alone, brother Sir Hugh and his pal, Gimmer, in the other. During the night, it rained. It does that in Scotland. Rain that changed the immediate landscape; a trickle became a burn (Scot. = stream) which became a small waterfall - through both our tents.

The next day we took the train south. Sir Hugh and Gimmer left to climb in the Lake District; I to Bradford to dump my tent and motorcycle up to rejoin them.

At 4 am I emerged from the train at Shipley a mere 3 miles from Heaton the suburb where I lived. The most direct route took in a steepish path through hillside woods. But what the heck?

I shouldered my rucksack with difficulty but didn't think much about that. After a mile, however, it was all I could think about. Rain had tripled the weight of my tent and sleeping bag. I leant against someone's garden wall knowing I didn't dare take off the rucksack to rest. I'd never get it back on again. Still I faced the hillside path.

I have no memory of what followed. The pain in my shoulders fused with my resentment about the cost of futilely going from Bradford to Scotland and back. Perhaps I thought about PB, my first love. I hope so. Perhaps I envisaged myself ski-ing (two decades ahead) where uphill is by lift. Perhaps I imagined renouncing “outdoors” and switching to opera. Unhealthily writing novels. Tote that barge, lift that bale… Do you know? It isn’t even fun merely remembering.

NOTE. Pic isn't me