● 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 31 August 2014

Scroggie! Give him a knighthood

In The Guardian's series, Books That Have Changed My Life, politico-literary cerebralists admit to being bowled over by The Rights Of Man, Middlemarch, Das Kapital, The Second Sex, etc.

But who comes uninfluenced to such works? I believe these readers' lives were already changing (intellectually) before they turned the first page. That these books, often requiring much effort, were mere confirmation.

And those are the honest ones. Others... well you gotta believe they're flaunting.

I can afford not to flaunt. I arrived at National Service in the RAF knowing, quite frankly, bugger-all. My schooling was a disaster and two years in newspapers had taught me to type and to write shorter sentences. The RAF said I had the capacity to maintain and repair their radio equipment. Eight months of training from the structure of the atom to the tripes of the radio altimeter. Thereafter I took on technical journalism (especially in the USA) that would previously have been beyond me. Later still I started to love science.

Step forward Foundations Of Wireless And Electronics by Marcus Graham Scroggie - a genuine life changer.

Hey, poetry needn’t always be solemn and profound. It can be fun, so long as it has something to say. This limerick’s complete:

I wish I weren’t doing Divvers
It honestly gives me the shivers,
I don’t know the facts
Of the Gospels and Acts
And tomorrow they’ll drag all the rivers.

Reasons why. It benefits that the delinquent student is doing a serious subject,  divinity (Divvers) – otherwise theology. But what about the punchline? An effortless bit of compression and an exhilarating leap forward. Good wordsmithing.


Tuesday 26 August 2014

Birthday story

Twin Olive Groves
Short story 996 words
Rewritten: July 6, 2015

 (Several years ago. South-east London. Party to celebrate long-standing journalist friend's sixtieth.
RR: I cannot get my mind round the Christian concept of heaven.
Devout RC friend, father of five (six?) children: We cannot know the mind of God.)

A SWANSDOWN pillow now supported his head just as his mother’s blue-veined breast had once cushioned his baby mouth. Two known sensations; he could switch from one to the other and back again, rearranging time and space to suit his moods and needs. Once it had seemed remarkable, now merely useful.

Through the window, clouds, roof tiles, pathways and olive branches combined as an orchestra to bring forth the rolling allegro of an unknown Bruckner symphony. Music of infinite length, rich in texture, clotted with intellect, slowly fervent - bidding him now to pray.

“My grateful thanks, Oh Lord”

Rising, showering, he put on his worn dressing gown and stepped out into the light. A raised patio, with marble table, overlooked an olive grove stretching down to the sea with scents live in the air: coffee from Yucatan, sharp yet earthy toast. Leaning over the carved wall he glimpsed Suky’s auburn head, in and out of the olive leaves, her camera catching the light as it moved in for close-ups.

Olive groves behind her, Suky stood at the shore, her bare feet flickering among the wavelets, looking out to sea, the sun catching the back of her auburn head, her thoughts absorbed with his thoughts as his were with hers. A universe of two, the prayer issuing forth unbidden:

“All praise to beauty taking flight as intelligence.”

SUKY sat across the table, eyes huge yet fond. “The movie was sensualist, about earthly pleasure. Also a hymn of gratitude for the physical qualities we’d both been given. He moving gracefully, running, catching and striking the ball – innocent dynamic delights; I his womanly counterpart without whom he was incomplete.” She smiled. “Sheesh I looked good. Forget feminism. Imagine us as figures on a Greek vase.”

“And in your most famous movie. Affection turned into something else, perhaps forbidden.”

Suky laughed aloud. “Everyone admitted G was beautiful. Hopeless sinners the pair of us. Yes, I felt for G but we remained cinematically chaste.  Besides which I had my own views.”

 He raised an eyebrow and she said quietly, “My thoughts were elsewhere.”

When her finger touched his lips the prayer had no words, only an unshaped grace.

The warmth from what she’d said was tangible and he revelled in it. Did this for a full hour, compressed into ten seconds for her sake. To retain her company.

“Today I’ve decided; I will do the journey,” he said. “But for the right reasons.”

Her smile faded. “You know I can’t help. Can’t even comment. I’m here because you want me here. Not as I am in reality but in this compatible form. Stripped of all the things that would clash with what you want.”

“Does that horrify you?”

“Never in this world. The price I pay for your impartial and distant affection. A very fair price.”

AT THE end of the journey the room was a replica of his own but repellent. A bare lamp-bulb, a full pot-de-chambre beneath the bed. The swansdown pillow sodden with sweat from a tortured night. A mother, their mother, having promised one or the other a good-night kiss had never appeared. The child, now adult, sat on the edge of the bed guessing at what the pot-de-chambre could still take.

The adult, now older, moved like a threat: swaying belly, bald head, varicose calves and a yellow-headed boil above the collar. Tormented by orchestral Bruckner and yearning for Motorcycle Emptiness, sung – the curse of knowing everything – by Manic Street Preachers.

Older still, victim of a raging thirst and a stomach aching with artificial hunger from drinking hard liquor too far into the night.

For here was the problem. One made the journey – a hard journey – out of duty and obligation. Perhaps out of guilt. In order to understand oneself and to lay down sympathy. But suppose neither understanding nor sympathy occurred. Suppose the object of the journey was simply too wretched, too sickening. A failed journey? With no visible solution?

Save prayer. Slogging, repetitive, humdrum devotions with not a shred of poetry. Starting with. “Lord help me…”

AN AUBURN-headed woman resembling Suky walked impatiently up through the grove towards the patio.  Nearer and her face shrank into bitterness. “The camera no longer works.” His head drooped, then rested on the marble table.

“Lord!” he cried. “Lord!”

When he looked up the suffering self - belly, calves and boil - lay across the table, asleep.

“Thank you, Lord.” He had never felt more grateful.

In the aisle of trees that led to the shore Suky – his Suky – waited.

He said, “There was a later movie, not very good. Someone helps you die. A plastic bag… Watching earlier, when I’d made the journey, I felt that same desolation. Yet I’m beyond desolation. Am I not?”

Her wonderful intelligent face sorrowed. “I’m not allowed even to guess.”

He looked back. At this distance the racked body, supported by the table, looked almost tranquil. Even though he knew this to be a meaningless pause, engineered for temporary comfort.

“I could pray for you,” he said.

Suky smiled wanly. “You could.”

“Could I pray for the impossible?”

“It’s not against the rules.”

“Don’t die.”

Her smile had a touch of the mischief that was her acting trade-mark. The single most identifiable detail of her face. “I’ll try not to,” she said with all the sympathy he had earlier failed to generate. “But elsewhere I’m older than what you see here. Closer to death.”

“I had a friend who said all this - ” He gestured at the olive grove and the distant sea. “ – would turn into oblivion.”

She nodded. “That’s been my expectation.”

“It should be your hope. Our hope.”

“An end to suffering. A beneficial void.”

The Bruckner embarked on a slow infinite diminuendo.

Monday 25 August 2014

Flying higher

NOTE: To make sense of this e-mail, sent to the owners of the snack-grill les Tilleuls, it's probably better to read the previous post, Flying high. Or, if you wish, ignore the whole boiling

Sylvie et Gérard,

Merci pour votre carte postale – un bon souvenir de notre dernière visite  (la troisième) aux Tilleuls.

Mais attendez. Mon anniversaire est maintenant tres proche et ma famille a organisé, hier, un repas qui a joué le meme role que votre carte a joué. Si vous cliquez ici:


vous reconnaiterez les ressemblances.

Vous avez cliqué? Et vous etes, je crois, tout horrifiés. Qu’est que c’est ca? Ce titre  abominable?  Des mouches…? Un mot péjorative. C’est une insulte! Notre snack-grill est entièrement propre.

Mais chers amis, il faut d’abord expliquer des choses.

Imaginez un villa à St-Jean-de-la-Blaquière, il y a cinq années. Occasional Speeder (OS – elle-qui-franchit-de-temps-en-temps- la-limite-maximum-de-la-vitesse-routière) parle avec RR, son père, au sujet du prochain déjeuner.

OS: L’année dernière on a déjeuné à ce restaurant à coté de la route nord de Lodève, direction Ganges.  Un bon café.

RR: J’en ai oublié.

OS: Tu doit te souvenir de ce snack-grill. Toute en jaune.

RR: Non.

OS: Une établissement sans toit. Des arbres… une odeur piquante… des mouches. Jaune. Toute en jaune.

RR: Ah, tu parle sur le snack-grill les Tilleuls, Mais il n’y avait pas de mouche.

OS: Peut-etre oui, peut-etre non. Mais ce mot commencant T majuscule, c’est trop-difficile pour moi. Pour la plupart des Anglais. J’ai vu l’un ou deux mouches –

RR: Evidemment. C’est un restaurant en pleine air. Je suis sur que tu as aussi vu des chiens, des chats et aussi des corbeaux.

OS: Ecoutes, mon vieux père. Le nom anglais, fly, c’est un mot court, n’est ce pas?

RR: Bien sur.

OS: Facile à comprendre. Facile à dire. Plus facile à prononcer que les Tilleuls. A propos, qu-est ce que cela, tilleul?

RR: Une sorte de thé.

OS: Et tu ne boit jamais le thé. Ecoute. Quand je parle de Fly Restaurant, tout le mond va me comprendre.

RR (dubatif): Tout the monde de notre famille.

OS (en colère); Pense sur le mouton, idiot.

RR (salivant): Tu as raison. Fly Restaurant, c’est un bon titre.

Et demain?

RR: On va déjeuner à Fly Restaurant. C’est l’endroit de la bonne cuisine. Et du bon mouton.

Votre client fidèle

Roderick Robinson

FOR THE ANGLOS: Yeah, yeah. The French is primitive, non-idiomatic and probably ungrammatical. Once it would have been better but old age has got me by the lapels. A faint gesture back to the past, if you like.

Sunday 24 August 2014

Flying high

Forget the reason. It's just a day, prefigured by two people going to bed in November 1934 and, as sad epilogue, getting divorced about fifteen years later.

If you feel like responding please celebrate the inventiveness and hard work of my immediate family (and a partner) who combined and turned the day - yet to happen, if the truth be known - into something unique.

It was Daniel, grand-daughter Bella's partner who had the original idea. "Let's re-create the Fly Restaurant," he said. The official name of the Fly Restaurant is Snack-Grill les Tilleuls, close to the wild and wonderful cliffs of Cirque de Navacelles, about 50 km north-east of Montpellier in southern France. More on this establishment will appear in the following post which - for self-evident reasons - will be in French.

FR cuisine is predominantly barbecue, cooked on one of those giant cheminées the French favour. Hence the cake. The colours of the table napkins and place mats, visible in the photo taken by Occasional Speeder during our last visit, were faithfully reproduced. Flies made of plastic dotted the groaning board.

Much thought went into duplicating what the FR offers (especially the mutton chops) and to devising a menu - subsequently laminated - which looked authentic. Bella swears the typeface is an exact replica. The only omission is an octopus dish which none of us has ever ordered. If the translation of the snack-grill's name is a bit ropy, I for one don't mind.

No one patronises the FR because of the wine cellar and my normal tipple is a can of Heineken, ordered faute de mieux. Chez Robinson, we did rather better.

I find it hard to acknowledge I deserved this which no doubt sounds like mock-modesty but it isn't. A moving occasion.

Thursday 21 August 2014

Acceptance, gloom, anti-gloom

The mini-adventure didn't happen - medical matters intervened. Never mind; old age teaches us to be philosophical.

Less easy to be philosophical about Alzheimer-stricken brother Nick (the best dressed one in the centre). At his "home" I  presented him with a pot plant - a strange, unbrotherly thing to do. I emphasised how his yacht Takista had invigorated my latter years. Mentioned sailing north at night with the Cote d'Aquitaine to starboard. As I spoke I saw flashes of recognition, then shared his suffering as he tried  to dredge up responses from a mind shot to hell by disease. As if we were alone on an alien and uncongenial planet.

Sir Hugh and I drove away looking for lunch in the Yorkshire Dales. Came upon the village of Leyburn, where the centre was devoted to a heaving mass of shiny car roofs. Two hundred beetle carapaces? Drove on, depressed.

Back at Sir Hugh's house I drank gin, wine and Scotch knowing there'd be a price to pay. Somehow Proust cropped up in talk; Sir Hugh has read A La Recherche (he has the necessary doggedness) and told me he enjoyed it. This cheered me.

Spent the following afternoon with Ron and Frances at their house in the tiny Lakes village of Mungrisdale. Ron and I started out on the same Bradford newspapers at the same time. He went on to write about Everest attempts, yachting, rock climbing, sub-aqua stuff and choral singing, travelling the world betimes. Frances has an honours degree in music from the Open University. Time after time I was conversationally outgunned. Parked outside was Ron's 600 cc metallic red Honda but happily there was no spare crash helmet. Instead I played the first line of God Save The Queen on Frances's harpsichord.

Driving home today I managed to transfer from the M6 motorway to the M5 motoway without being mired in a traffic jam. Almost a miracle. 

Wednesday 13 August 2014

Think of it as 10 cubed

A thousand posts – so what? Were any of them worth reading? That's what matters. Take this one, for instance.

A thousand pounds a year. In the sixties it was my definition of success. Now it's four months' wine bill.

A thousand ages in thy sight
Are like an evening gone
Short as the watch that ends the night
Before the rising sun.

Verse from Oh God Our Help In Ages Past

Hundreds and thousands. Multi-coloured granules for decorating sticky buns. To please the eye rather than the palate. A confectionery fraud.

M. A fairly simple Roman date.

Fahsen'. Cockney utters unimaginably huge figure.

1000 AD. Birth of Adalbert, Duke of Lorraine. To be safe, add "circa".

Grand. Useful addition to the world's vocabulary, courtesy the USA.

K. Slightly less useful addition, courtesy the metric system fans.

1000 cc. A large motorbike engine.

Thousand years. Gives rise to a word many find hard to spell.

Thousand (etym.). OE - püsend, Proto-German - püsundi, plus many more, all equally boring.

Twenty-thousand Leagues Under The Sea. Brownie points if you've read it.

Thousand Foot Krutch.
Canadian rock band famous for The End Is Where We Begin. Famous?

Mahler. Symphony No 8. Also known as: Symphony For A XXXXXXXX (Fill in the last word yourself)

A thousand times a thousand times a thousand. The present-day billion debased by the USA. Previously, courtesy the UK, it had twelve zeroes.

** I'm off on a teeny-tiny adventure. I'd be inclined to wish you all the peace of God that passeth all understanding. If it didn't sound uncomfortably like permanent oblivion.

Monday 11 August 2014

Cruel to be kind? No, just cruel

 I have known cruel teachers but Anne G. was the cruellest. She was also the most effective. She had a secret weapon and used it relentlessly - sex.

In a suicidal gesture - albeit in happier economic times - my employer allowed me two mornings off a week to learn French. For well over a year. Very quickly I was joined by Joe plus a whole lot of sales layabouts.

Willowy Anne G., our teacher, was not only cruel but capricious. She took exception to one journalist student, possibly because of his rather prominent facial birthmark. She sneered at his incompetence, marked down his work savagely, and eventually insisted he moved to another teacher.

We, her toadies, were more or less immune. But then our Sunday afternoons at home were devoted to more and more elaborate devoirs, using more and more advanced literary conceits, the aim being to make her laugh. When this happened it was as if she had transformed herself into that woman in the classical painting - you know, the one emerging more or less naked from a scallop shell. Bliss.

But when we got things wrong, her green eyes became slitlike, her mouth a rat-trap, her condemnation piercing. The words arriving like arrows at Agincourt.

Not to put too fine a point on it, I progressed. The alternative was unthinkable. I often wondered if she'd been able to teach chemistry.

… in that little room with the high ceiling, hollowed in the form of a pyramid out of two separate storeys, and partly walled with mahogany, in which from the first moment my mind was drugged by the unfamiliar scent of flowering grasses, convinced of the hostility of the violet curtains and of the insolent indifference of the clock…

Sunday 10 August 2014

Speed. O jest unseen

By manufacturers' agreement, production motorbikes are limited to 300 kpm (186 mph). My licence allows me to ride one.

I last rode a bike in 1974. A Velocette similar to that shown though dirtier, the surface was a tarmac footpath less than 1 m wide and it had just rained.

At 20 mph I arrived at a gentle curve, knew I wouldn't make it, trundled on to the adjacent grass, re-assumed the path and rode on.

I didn't know then this would be my last ride; now I do. It's pathetic but I'd like one more go. On a winding Hereford road then a motorway, latterly 80 - 90 mph. Silly old fool, you say.

Motorbikes are unique. You've more power than you need, you're among the elements, you change gear in milliseconds, you incline yourself and the bike to get round corners. It feels safer than it looks. It's noisy and anti-social and it helps explain why some people behave noisily and anti-socially.

I wrote a sonnet. Rubbish except, possibly, for the last line:

Seeing the corner’s coming trajectory.

I saw the sunlit vale, and the pastoral fairy-tale;
The sweet and bitter scent of the may drifted by;
And never have I seen such a bright bewildering green,
But it looked like a lie,
Like a kindly meant lie.

Reasons why:
Not much verbal beauty here. Both “sunlit” and “vale” tend to exist mainly in verses. Can you see a fairy-tale? The contradiction of “sweet and bitter” is an improvement and I like “bewildering”. But poems needn’t be beautiful if they grab you. And I for one need a resolution for those last two lines.
NOTE: Last line had typo: "line" instead of "lie". Now corrected.

Edmund Blunden (b. 1896)

Thursday 7 August 2014

Got it? Flaunt it!

Luxury is several things:

Ease/comfort based on habitual or liberal use of expensive items without regard to cost.

  Something desirable but costly or difficult to obtain.

  Something relatively expensive adding to pleasure or comfort but not indispensable.

Do I do luxury? Ignoring wine as too complex, the answer must be no. I once bought a Savile Row suit but only to dazzle potential US employers at job interviews. Several shirts were excessive but were needed for special events - notably weddings.

My Longines wristwatch cost lots but was a gift. Dictionaries? - they're big but I flatter myself I need big. Dover sole costs much more then cod but it's better; in any case it's a rarish treat.

Only my shaving bowl refills are luxurious. A tenner, they cost three times more than the competition and come from Geo F. Trumper in swanky Curzon Street, London, who once cut James Bond's hair. When they lasted a year they were almost a bargain. Now only six months.

Trumper is "for the discerning" and issues instructions: "Only shave after a bath or shower; prepare the skin with Trumper’s skin food.”

Why Trumper? To keep tabs on the enemy.

I would sleep wrapped up, as it were, in a great cloak of snug and savoury air, shot with the glow of logs which would break out again in flame in a sort of alcove without walls, a cave of warmth dug out of the heart of the room itself, a zone of heat whose boundaries were constantly shifting and altering in temperature as gusts of air ran across  them to strike freshly upon my face…

Tuesday 5 August 2014

The pain of acknowledgement

World War One still chokes me. As I get older, the sensation intensifies. All those deaths - accepted and borne for so long.

Television, the home of shallow reaction, last night faced an un-televisable event - a national enactment of Lord Grey's comment at the beginning of the war: lamps going out all over Europe. Television depends on light and needed to communicate its own brief extinction. How do you depict the dark?

I recalled a Guardian reporter who had sat in a café in Mons in Belgium, watching the world go by, chatting to customers. For decades Belgium has been the butt of jokes about the country's presumed unimportance. Yet Belgians, some of them great grandchildren to the WW1 generation, said the same thing: they would never forget the sacrifices made by British troops (later other nationalities) in coming to Belgium's help a hundred years ago.

One café customer was Belgium's prime minister. On his own, chatting, reflecting.

I am no monarchist yet two smallish details stand out. The Queen took no part in the Westminster Abbey event, preferring to meditate in (I think) a small Scottish church. A rare occasion when non-participation proved to be the greater tribute

Prince Harry read out a letter from Pte Michael Lennon sent to his brother Frank in 1915. Harsh bare words about the likelihood of death; gruffly pushing this idea to one side. Inevitably Michael Lennon died two days later at Gallipoli.

As I said, the sensation is one of being choked. As if old events were reaching out, determined I should share some of the pain. And so I should.

Saturday 2 August 2014

Touché? I prefer flabby

The Royal Air Force, with which I (unwillingly) served for 62,899,200 seconds, didn't care what I did with my mind, didn't acknowledge I had one. But it did encourage me to consider my body. To buff my biceps.

You can see why. Seeking the bubble reputation, even in the canon's mouth (quote), it’s better to be fit than flabby. To ensure a battlefield strewn with comely corpses the RAF provided "facilities".

Most lacked attraction. Weights? Pure drudgery. Medicine balls? Badly named. Pommel horses? I suspect quadrupeds.

Fencing foils were different. In an armed service aiming to kill from above, a sword seemed ironic. Only a dagger brought you closer to your victim. I recalled Gene Kelly slashing his way through The Three Musketeers.

Within ten minutes I'd lost all interest. The initial steps in fencing are wearisome. Form your feet into a T then shuffle forwards. Then shuffle back. Do this for some time. And again. Was there more? I'll never know. Parenthetically, parallel bars proved no better.

Gene Kelly shuffling! Nah. I don't favour bombs but in my opinion swords will never make a warfaring comeback.

I like good poems. Those that teeter amuse me too:

From the Gallows Hill to the Tineton Copse
There were ten ploughed fields, like ten full-stops,
All wet red clay, where a horse’s foot
Would be swathed, feet thick, like an ash-tree root

Reasons why. But does it teeter? You’d pay good money for “ten full-stops”. And the hammered-home reality of lines three and four satisfies because it’s sustained. Could you beat “swathed”? Or the foot/feet conceit? Or the vigorously worked rhyming?  OK, so you don’t like fox-hunting.

John Masefield