● 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.

Sunday 27 April 2014

Oh-ho for the open road

Lorry drivers are dominated by tachographs, electronic recorders which prevent them from exceeding the legal limits for stints at the wheel.

At night laybys on busy roads are often choked with these silent juggernauts as their masters microwave themselves meals, watch telly, perform their ablutions (?) and slumber, their lives often obscured by prissy little curtains. It's difficult to imagine a more unhealthy life. Once, to illustrate an article on ergonomics, I instructed an artist to design a front page showing a driver becoming part of  his forklift. The artwork was a failure but I should have thought laterally. Many HGV drivers resemble their Dafs, Ivecos and Scanias:  heavily loaded, noisy, assertive.

Drivers are said to enjoy their freedom and the romance of long distances - greeting the dawn in Frankfurt, bedding down in Istanbul. But one motorway is very much like another and HGV parks are always irredeemably squalid.

There are diversions.VR's nephew-by-marriage was a lorry driver and woke up to hear his vehicle being broken into. He locked the cab, worked the ignition and drove away. You can't do that with a house.

Lines for scrutiny:

And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
A mighty fountain momently was forced;
Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst.

Reasons why not. One goodish line followed by three which show you how not to do it. "Fast thick pants" irresistibly suggests kid's winter clothing, "momently" didn't deserve, or need, to be invented, nor did "half-intermitted". I have to confess I would never have guessed the quatrain's origins if I hadn't seen the first line.

Coleridge. Kubla Khan

Thursday 24 April 2014

Now worth eating

I sat on the sofa, pleasantly knackered after providing some minor service for my helpmeet. The door opened and I was handed a deliciously smelling plate: a couple of cooked chicken livers transfixed with toothpicks. Ah...

Quickly they were a memory, a memory that resonates. Chicken has been a barometer of gustatory wellbeing for me over the years. Immediately after the war it was an unimaginable luxury, appearing once a year only at Christmas. Turkey? Only aristocrats and black-market criminals ate that.

For ten years chicken retained its luxury status but then came the cheap, battery-reared corpse and my interest waned. "Food for invalids," I told my ma-in-law.

Chicken staged a small comeback in the USA when a KFC bucket, accompanied by a $5 jug of beer, formed an epilogue to evenings spent watching the Pittsburgh Jugoslav Club play softball. Back in the UK the pap continued.

I was re-converted in France by a Poulet de Bresse which cost many euros. I realised flavour is available but it doesn’t come with a Tesco Value label. It costs. That aforementioned evening we ate the livers' surroundings, roasted, and VR let me strip the skin off the remainder and chew. Barometer now set Fair.

Poetry extract, chosen not knowing the author, honouring Joe Hyam.

I wish I were a
And I could pick off the coconuts with my nose,
But, oh, I am not,
But I'm a cockroach
And I'm a waterbug,
I can crawl around and hide behind the sink.

Reasons why. Two good, if conflicting, rules; be unexpected (nose instead of trunk), be straightforward if it elaborates the line (behind the sink). And grab attention - here by mispronouncing elephant. A child speaking?

Anon. (Hey, I was fooled too.)

Tuesday 22 April 2014

Gluck said it better*

Tone Deaf has been extravagantly praised (qv) and must adopt a higher tone. Today's text is: What is life?

Amazing how careless we are with life. No sense of nurture. We drink ardent spirits, over-eat, read trash, loll mindlessly, pursue ignoble aims, revel in materialism. ignore what little talent we have, misuse our sex drive, sneer, cavil, avoid intellectual difficulty, dress badly and pay no attention to our posture.

Only the possibility of losing our life urges an improvement. Satan beckons: "There's more of all that down below," he says. Or rather we receive the invitation from his modern-day prophet: cross-dressing, epicene George Osborne, smirkingly.

I've swum against the tide: jogged before work, eschewed chips, tried Joseph Conrad, dropped a pound into a beggar's hand, listened (briefly) to Messiaen's Les Oiseaux. But never simultaneously.

I arrived with the moral equivalent of a million pounds. Not only has this benison not earned any interest, the capital sum has been eroded. I am down to my last ten-thousand pounds of good-will and a chill wind threatens my loins.

What is life? It's an opportunity to make the best of it and I cannot pretend I've come close. Worse still, I might have used up what I inherited in a spectacular and memorable gesture of evil. Instead I've allowed it to dribble away. Wasted it. Born in the West Riding of Yorkshire and imbued with all the mean-spirited parsimony that such a birth entails, I have nevertheless been profligate. To the point where even Tykes would disdain me.

And there’s one other thing. What is life? Was I ever equipped to answer that question? Doubt it. Better luck to the rest of you.

* How did Gluck do it better? Click here.

Sunday 20 April 2014

The misdirected cane

At my school pupils were caned regularly and for no good reason. The prospect terrified me and during these sessions (once because my feet were bigger than the geography master's) I was often close to screaming out. I am not ashamed. It seemed the obvious reaction.

Two fat boys in my class were caned over and over for being fat. Yet they adopted a philosophical attitude, bearing the pain with fortitude, smiling afterwards, even joking with the caning master.

I didn't like the fat boys (perhaps because they were fat; I was just as prejudiced as the sadists squiring our intellects) but I envied the way they compartmentalised pain. Now I'm not so sure.

It's Easter Day which reminds us of the infliction of suffering by those in authority. Those floggings over sixty years ago were frequently unfair. Should one remain stoic in the face of injustice? More particularly, might one be shaped in later life by such light-heartedness?

I believe my reaction was healthier. At least, it led (I think) to a lifelong detestation of the death penalty. Thanks chaps.

From The Poet's Tongue (ed. Auden, Garret), celebrating the life of Joe Hyam, poetry lover and friend.

Gup, Scot,
Set in better
Thy pentameter,
This Dundas,
This Scottish as,
He rymes and railes,
That Englishmen have tailes.

Reasons why. The English persecuted the Scots; here’s a yah-boo. Googling: laudate - "Oh praise...", caudate - "Having a tail-like appendage...",  gup - reproof, derision, remonstrance, Dundas - a Scottish surname.

Is it poetry? Definitely. On the basis of "Set in better/Thy pentameter." alone. Rough translation: Don't bother with Latin pretentious Scot, say it straight out, the English are devils. Cleverclogs. Seven out of ten. 

John Skelton (c. 1460 – 1529)

Friday 18 April 2014

Magic BM revisited

It used to be a magic moment. Released from the Hell that was Sunday-morning check-in at Gatwick during the ski-ing season, I would fetch up at the bar and order a Bloody Mary. Sipping, I told myself, I am finally en route for the slopes.

Ski-ing is now only a faint memory but not the liberating taste of that cocktail. Would a BM similarly liberate VR? It seemed it would.

We had to have two, of course, to adjust the amounts. More tomato juice and much less celery salt, said VR. Less Tabasco (that tiny little chap) for me; uxorially I also turned up the wick on tomato.

Still it wasn't right. Now VR wanted more Lea & Perrins  and I'd overdone the tomato. Nevertheless, we were content. The perfect Bloody Mary could wait for tomorrow (ie, today). And here I am in my shirt sleeves at the computer; outside there's a strong sun and a bit of a nip. The garden chairs and table will need disrobing so there'll be additional symbolism at work.

Too nippy? Why do you think vodka was invented in the first place?


Tone Deaf's tribute to Joe Hyam, poetry lover and friend.

But bright Cecilia's rais'd the wonder higher:
When to her organ vocal breath was given,
An angel heard and straight appear'd,
Mistaking Earth for heaven.

The reason why. No more comment on what you can't see; only what you can. The title is Song For St Cecilia's Day, you get that. St Cecilia is patroness of musicians.

The last two lines are a neat conceit. "Organ vocal breath" tries hard, but it’s “voice" in drag. "Bright" only makes the line scan; "was given" seems unresolved. Doggerel? Yes, but redeemed by that compact last line. 

John Dryden.

Wednesday 16 April 2014

The way to enlightenment

Walking to the filling station for The Guardian takes 7 min - is it worth a post? The sun... Nah! Never the weather!

Nobody's abroad. Brian's trolley for delivering free-sheets is empty, its job done for the week. Brian is my age yet walks with lunging, impatient strides, does the Brecon Beacons. But he's not a patch on Mrs Meerkat, three doors down, whose stride is half Brian's but three times the frequency. Her tiny feet a blur, she only says Hello when I'm with VR.

From Dorchester into Stanbury past two vital symbols - the postbox and the bus-stop - then the portico house occupied by the soft-voiced farmer. In his eighties he dozed at the wheel, knocked over cones and lost his licence. When we meet he’s philosophical but l can't do without a car. Just can't.

Smaller houses in Chichester make a low black Audi look sinister – its down-curling LED headlights like the eyes of a dozing cat. There's drug-dealing half a mile away on the other estate; is the Audi a creeping manifestation? A plump, twentyish woman walks toward me, her face studiously fixed. No Good Morning. Shy, obviously; she’s gender-entitled.

I'm in luck: three Guardians. No need to visit the main store.

Taste poetry here in honour of Joe Hyam.

Do you remember an Inn?
And the tedding and the spreading
Of the straw for a bedding
And the fleas that tease in the High Pyrenees,
And the wine that tasted of the tar?

Reasons why. Odd-length lines in a rhythmic triumph. Recite it aloud, puh-lease. Comic, vivid ("Of the girl gone chancing/Glancing/Dancing") yet serious too (“In the walls of the Halls where falls/The tread/Of the feet of the dead to the ground”)

Tarantella. Hilaire Belloc.

Sunday 13 April 2014

Brock out-strutted

We set out for beer and sandwiches at The Bull at Craswell, a remote pub on the ridge that defines Golden Valley, setting for the Anthony Hopkins movie, Shadowlands. It's been years since I drove the route and I lost my way on impossibly narrow country roads with grass growing in the middle.

We never made The Bull but we came upon a strange sight: a badger - in broad daylight - trying to cross the road into a field, but being held back by a handful of sheep who moved backwards and forwards on the other side of a wire fence, blocking each outflanking move he made. Both Professional Bleeder and son Ian thought the badger for the Bull was a fair swap.

We ordered sandwiches at The Pandy Inn at Dorstone where shouts of anger, followed by a slammed door, rose from the kitchen and a pretty, overworked girl - close to tears at one point - worked the bar and served the tables. Service was much delayed but, as you can imagine, we'd have paid extra for the drama.

Poetry service, run by RR as a tribute to the late poetry-loving Joe Hyam.

Deo gratias Anglia
Redde pro victoria.

Our king went forth to Normandy
With grace and might of chivalry,
There God for him wrought marvellously,
Wherefore England may call and cry
Deo gratias, etc,

Reasons why. Fifteenth century carol, better sung - shouted? - plainsong style,  stamping like a knight's charger. Latin translates as: England, give thanks to God for victory. Wars aren’t my bag: certainly when claimed as God-driven. But the declamatory style cannot be bettered: six words (third line) summarises the whole campaign, "grace" is so persuasive it's forgivable, "wrought" (obsolete in 2014?) seems inevitable.


Thursday 10 April 2014

Just one damn cube...

Oakchurch, on the Brecon road, was once a garden centre which became hoity-toity. In the charcuterie section seven or eight small dishes of dark liquid are laid on the counter with a basket of bread cubes. Free tasting for anyone who can identify Elizabeth David. I jest but it's that kind of place.

I try Blackcurrant Balsamic Vinegar; it's scrumptious. I rush to VR who says, "If you like it, get it." But grandson Ian, solemn and accusatory as the Spanish Inquisition, reminds me it's diet day. I am agonised, I never break the rule. "Just one damn cube, it was no bigger than a poker dice," I protest. All nod like hanging judges but I’m allowed.

Joe loved poetry and thought everyone else should, especially me. This snippet may resonate. Read it before the attribution as I must, since that's how Auden and Garrett set up The Poet's Tongue, my source book previously owned by my mother.

"Call down the hawk from the air;
Let him be hooded or caged
Till the yellow eye has grown mild,
For larder and spit are bare,
The old cook enraged,
The scullion gone wild."

Reasons why. Dead simple unless you're new to scullion (unskilled lad working in kitchen). Everyone's hungry and the falcon in flight is scaring away the evening meal. But where's the poetry? In the compression: the bare larder/spit not only says they're short of food but how they would cook it. Note too the elegance of "Call down...", making good use of the slightly less familiar use of the verb. Similarly "Let him be..." which may well be that equally rare bird, the subjunctive, giving a sense of formality to the procedure. Poetry needn't be airy-fairy.

W. B. Yeats (Oh, I'm so glad).

Tuesday 8 April 2014

The vulgar tongue

Daughter Professional Bleeder and son Ian are staying. They arrive from Luton by bus, a great source of blogging material.

Sitting close to Ian a man, apparently Russian or possibly Central European, opens an exercise book which 6 ft 4 in. Ian scrutinises without any problems. On one side of the page are English slang phrases, on the other rudimentary transcriptions:

The dog's bollocks - An expression of something good.
Badgering - Pestering.
Bat out of Hell - Something travelling very fast.

Ian, always difficult to impress, quickly loses interest and falls to inspecting the head of the person in front.

Later, helping me consume a bottle of not very fizzy prosecco, Ian passes on this experience. As ever there’s half a short story based on a first outing of one of the phrases, preferably the first. The second half is harder to come by.


Joe Hyam, my late mate, confidently believed I would in the end get the hang of poetry. In honour of his memory I intend to choose extracts and respond to them as best I can.

A circle swoop  and a quick parabola under the bridge arches
Where light pushes through;
A sudden turning upon itself of a thing in the air,
A dip to the water.

Reasons why. It's a bat, not a swallow, but the rhythms and varied line lengths capture the fast, random but guided changes of direction of both types of flight. The poem deliberately uses the inarticulate "of a thing" to refer to an object not yet positively identified. Light, the stronger force, "pushes through" the arches at dusk.

D. H. Lawrence. Source: The Poet's Tongue. Anthology chosen by W. H. Auden and John Garret. The poems and their writers' names appear separately to bypass reader prejudice.

Friday 4 April 2014

His tail's like that too

Years ago Tone Deaf, then Works Well, did the knife and then the spoon. Time now for the very symbolic fork.

It has, for instance, been a source of dissension between the Rs. In logistical terms the fork is inferior to the spoon. Used poshly (ie, upside down) the fork holds less tucker (ie, Oz for food; probably outmoded by now) and what it does hold is less secure. It is not the tool of choice for a hungry man since not everything is spearable.

In my youth and middle age I was always hungry and saw no reason why I had to eat, say, scrambled egg with a fork. VR disagreed and I gave in. Casseroles were another area of dispute.

The fork is, of course, associated with the Devil. I'm using an initial capital letter but will take advice on this from devout Christians.

The fork (used with the knife) divides transatlantic table habits. Or did, things may have changed. To a Brit it was all strangely unsettling. All that sawing with no eating, the food getting cold. Then the switchover - like getting off a horse and mounting a child's tricycle. By then my plate would be half-cleared. I never dared raise this point, I suspected it was written into the Constitution.

But Brits aren’t really more efficient. We deliberately insist on balancing food on the fork’s under edge, whence it falls off. Especially peas. Americans often point out this anomaly, unaware of their own practises.

Secretly, when no one's watching, I invert my fork and push with the knife. Lowering my head betimes.

A warning to untravelled Americans: forks are big etiquette in the UK.

No one I know uses a spoon to eat fish.

Wednesday 2 April 2014

Fast spin

 Most utility rooms are - ahem! - utilitarian. In ours (and from ours) the liberal arts briefly flourished last Monday. All it took was a coin.

A ducat, groat, mite, or a gilder? Whatever. Left in a trouser pocket it wrecked our comparatively new washing machine. Terry, the itinerant repairman, sighed that the nearest replacement was in Tewkesbury. Reminding me of Gloster (later Richard III), casually summarising Anne, whom he'd recently widowed and whom he intended to marry;

Edward, her lord, whom I, some three months since,
Stabb'd in my angry mood at Tewkesbury.

Switched on, the new washer tinkled an electronicky tune, conceivably a leitmotif. Terry initiated a test cycle and asked who had painted the two oils of Hadrian's Wall hanging in the kitchen.VR took responsibility but Terry's interest was comradely not critical; he too painted and may - I can't be sure - have carved wood. A cultural nexus was evolving.

VR took Terry on a ground-floor tour of other artworks: her water-colour of an Italian town at dawn, the commissioned simulated bronze statue of our grandchildren, another commissioned portrait - this time of Zach, our other grandson. Terry, nominally an electrician, bestrode the twin cultures with easy familiarity.

Then a bell (metaphorical, of course) sounded in my head. Washing machines! I showed Terry my copy of Gorgon Times, explained that the joint-hero, Hatch, had been production manager with a washing machine manufacturer before redundancy. That engineering was, to some extent, a further co-hero of the novel. That Terry was GT's ideal reader.

He nodded, photographed the book's front cover with his smartphone, said he'd order it.

So far the washing machine still works.