● 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.

Monday 27 April 2015

"Still scribbling, Mr Gibbon?"

Finished my fourth novel, Second Hand, yesterday. "Finished" is a relative term; yet to come are read-throughs, partial rewrites and corrections. But Second Hand exists as a story if only a rough-draft.

The greatest thrill came not from recording the last word (already rewritten several times) but during the final half-chapter when what remained of the plot was quite clear and only needed transcribing.

Now comes the difficult task of finding someone capable of reading the MS and saying whether it's worth a damn. Joe, alas, has other commitments.

I started writing novels seriously in late 2009, the first progress report appearing in my blog, Works Well, on October 31. Two-and-a-bit chapters of what became Gorgon Times. Chronologically the novels are:

Gorgon Times (103,903 words)
Out Of Arizona, née Risen On Wings (115,913 words)
Blest Redeemer (138,383 words)
Second Hand (86,673 words).

More recently I've written twenty-six short stories, most of which have appeared in Tone Deaf. The combined wordage for novels and stories comes to 488,729 over 67 months: an average output of 7294 words/month.

Plus 1093 300-word posts over a slightly longer period: 327,900 words at 3903 words/month.

Plus (much less seriously) 10 ABAB-quatrain pieces of verse, 37 sonnets and one (lonely) villanelle.

I’ve used figures hoping they might seem impressive; there is of course no way of quantifying worth. Sixty-seven months isn’t a long apprenticeship, many authors have devoted more to writing a single novel. But then not many were foolish enough to have started so late: 72 in my case. For what it’s worth I believe I write better than I used to but I’d bloody well hope so. More to come? It sort of depends…

Saturday 25 April 2015

How about La Via Dolorosa then?

At this point VR has not yet reached the circuit proper
Others walk, some heroically: Sir Hugh up and down Scots mountains, Lucy along Brittany's craggy coastline. To say we (VR and I) have joined them might constitute hubris.

Adjacent to our house is an expanse of grass which triggers the same query from our infrequent guests: when are developers going to cover that with houses? The answer is never.

A quarter of a century ago the area was called - not to put too fine a point on it - The Tip. Or, if you like, The Dump. Along came the city council, stretched a huge plastic membrane over the rubbish, piled half a meter of earth on top and, for all I know, seeded it. The tip became the landfill. As a gesture of gentility the parish council arranged a christening and the vote was for Abbey View Park. The rationale being that euphemism settles the nerves of those selling their houses and the estate agents who manage the transactions.

Quite soon every local man and his dog had one thing on their minds - defecation. Sternly the parish council issued demands regarding plastic bags and when soiling had been reduced from Toxic to Almost Tolerable a gravel path was installed. It is round this ignobly contrived route we now walk.

I believe the path is three-quarters of a mile long and we are now up to two circuits. Our walk does not compete with the Pennine Way or the Appalachian Trail but then either of those - were we to attempt it - would end fatally. The trick when walking is to adopt a mindset devoid of history. We have yet to christen the path; I have in mind La Piste Sordide but that will require discussion.
This too is the final detour away from the main circuit; like the parish council I too can manipulate reality

Thursday 23 April 2015

A wart on what?

Stella (See my list of members) is eloquent about things with little cash value but which are linked to someone close, now dead. Her mother's embroidered table-cloths, for instance.

VR speaks authoritatively: "Those could never be thrown away."

Our problems are different. Twice I've tried to store vegetables, mineral water, beer and soft drinks in the garage in a space-efficient yet accessible manner. I've over-bought the systems: stackable plastic drawers (see pic), knocked-down fabric drawers. VR wants these redundancies gone but parsimony makes me drag my heels. The items are hardly used, they cost money - recently.

The other problem is less tractable, buried in my psyche. Some years ago I bought an exercise bicycle which I kept in the shed. Initially MP3 music stemmed the boredom, then the complete (ie, 22 CDs) audio version of Ulysses - the ideal counterpoint to mindless labour. Ill health interrupted my exercises, the effects departed slowly and I never resumed. (Meanwhile VR tried Ulysses and was charmed.) Now VR wants to see the back of the bike. There's the money of course (£200) but much more is the admission of defeat. I am, as they say, a wart on the arse of progress.

Shut, shut the door, good John! fatigued I said:
Tie up the knocker, say I’m sick, I’m dead.
The Dog-star rages! Nay, ‘tis past a doubt,
All Bedlam, or Parnassus, is let out:

A veritable gallimaufry of punctuation, taken as usual from The Poet’s Tongue, an anthology where poems and their authors are listed separately. For the moment I no more know the author than you do. One cannot imagine what follows; one suspects it isn’t serious; yet one is transported by the vigour of expression. Vigour is enough, here; it’s a poem.

Alexander Pope

Monday 20 April 2015

Going private

Underpants. Pants in the US; confusingly un slip in France. In Germany a garment only worn by firemen (unterhose).

I have a huge confession. For much of my youth I never wore them. I think my mother's excuse was that WW2 demanded economies and trousers did all the covering-up that was necessary. Needless to say I never admitted this to any of my  neighbours when I lived in the US. Most would have insisted even after a decade's scrubbing I wouldn't have been pure enough to share a US changing room.

Underpants come in two styles, one more manly than the other. You'd expect hairy chests to wear boxer shorts (illustrated) but you'd be wrong. Real men favour the other sort, more vestigial, closer to a jockstrap, resembling the slingshot David popped Goliath with. I tried the manly ones but couldn't get on with them: they "rode up" as my Grannie put it. They ceased to contain, became instead a futile sort of belt.

Initially underpants (both sorts) came in a beige-white, brushed fabric that quickly sagged. If you were daring enough to jump into a pool or a river wearing only such underpants they became transparent when wet.

Now they're made of cotton in all sorts of colours. Some even have messages. Don't ask me who reads the words, or of what gender.

I tend to buy mine half a dozen at a time. This is quite foolish since all the elastic "loses its nature" (another Grannie phrase) on the same date.

John Major, a former UK prime minister, revealed he tucked his shirt into his underpants. Quickly he was laughed out of office.

Saturday 18 April 2015

Noisome natter

When did you last have a conversation? One that met the word's definition:

Informal verbal exchange of feelings, opinions, or ideas.

In my case it's been ages. Yet I list conversation on my blog profile as one of my enthusiasms. Have I been lying? I fear so.

The first stumbling block is "exchange". It implies open-mindedness, a willingness to listen (rare enough) and to take on board something someone else says (even rarer). When have I shown the necessary generosity of spirit to allow this to happen? I can't remember.

Then there's that trio of examples. When were feelings and ideas at the heart of what I said? Why am I gloomily convinced I mostly purveyed opinion.

The definition doesn't touch on motive and perhaps that's just as well. I doubt mine would withstand even glancing examination.

Am I overdoing the self-denigration? I think not, this is an important subject. We arrive first as a face, then as the sum of what we wear, then as a facial expression, then by what we say and how we say it. Afterwards that last bit tends to persist in our acquaintance's memory. This is often the only lesson politicians learn.

Can conversational bad habits be unlearned?  Reflective silence when in the company of others may help. As might less drink. A jaw brace?

Monday 13 April 2015

"I have a go" (Archie Rice)

Limerick trio

A writer of modest ambition,
Undergoing a late circumcision,
Said to he who was cutting:
"Please allow me to butt in,
I'm keen to lose no ammunition."

"Fear not," said the scalpel technician,
"You are part of a bookish tradition.
In trimming your member,
I'll not harm your gender,
Just bring out a smaller edition."

"I like that, it gives me a frisson,"
Said the scribe,"You have my permission,
To carve with free rein,
Taking care to retain,
A way to ensure micturition."

Query: "Said to he" or "Said to him"?

Friday 10 April 2015

Downhill is bad for you

I'm OK with homo ("man, human being") less so with sapiens (sapient: "able to act with judgment").

It's an arrogant label, applied by man to man without consulting the chimps. So shouldn't we be required to show proof, take a little test? Such as: am I just free-wheeling through the day or behaving like a higher-order being?

OK, OK, my life here in Herefordshire is limited, even moribund. Passing through the check-out at Tesco without being arrested as a vagrant may be proof enough. Could a chimp do that? But Tesco's routine and doesn't require much judgment. Let me offer slightly more rigorous proof:

Has anything new happened today and did I process it as new? Anything: something visible, an experience, a thought. But it has to be new, genuinely new.

At Thai On The Wye last week I ordered Thom Kha Gai (coconut soup with chicken, spiced with galangal, lemon grass and lime leaves). The flavour was unique, no previous taste has ever come close. I said so, and that was vital. Lucky me. Perhaps I re-qualified as homo sapiens.

Yesterday a guy repaired our fence damaged in recent high winds. His method was unexpected. I watched, asked questions, lent him a spanner. The strength of the repaired structure was self-evident and pleased me. Lucky me? Perhaps.

I wrote this post early this morning. Beforehand, this assembly of words didn't exist. But I don't think this qualifies: I aimed to write something new. Newness didn’t arrive and one can’t pre-react to newness. Perhaps I'll come upon a new word in French later on this morning.

My reasoning is ad hoc and inconclusive. Except for one thing: in my tripes I believe free-wheeling is bad for me. Bad for everyone.

Tuesday 7 April 2015

A golden era indeed

I can fairly say la jeunesse dorée passed me by. It wasn't society's fault, you understand. Society had more important fish to fry, notably surviving a world war. Thereafter enduring war's endless consequences.

These days society recognises children are vulnerable and tries to compensate. In those days... I remember my first day at primary school. I'd lived a sheltered life, lacking nearby friends. As my mother left the school's main hall I began to scream. Perfunctory attempts were made to calm me, then Mrs Cox said, "I think we'll just leave Roderick where he is." And so they did, a small pile of misery on the rough wooden floor.

Had I been older I might have reflected on my good luck. Kids in the Warsaw ghetto were then definitely worse off.

Being a child denies you the bigger picture but small things leave a lasting memory. Post-lunch at Thackley PS children were made to slumber for half an hour. On two types of bed: one which allowed the user to hang off the ends of stretched fabric, the other an intractable, miniaturised wooden frame. I was tall for my age and I got the frame. I cannot remember sleeping a single minute. No one noticed.

Children who faltered with multiplication tables were smacked on the thigh - skirts and pants legs slid up to ensure proper contact. If you cried, the teacher encouraged the rest of the class to laugh at you. Which we all did. Five-year-olds!

Had the subject been raised the teachers' response would have been: I went through it and I'm OK. I agree. Dishing out punishment was then a pedagogue's perk.

Gilded youth? They say kids from wealthier families had even sterner educations.

Sunday 5 April 2015

To shout or not to...

I take every opportunity possible to watch Hamlet. Last night we saw "a radical re-imagining" modern-dress movie of the play starring Maxine Peake in the title role. I thought she was 18 it turns out she's forty. I set aside any preconceptions but I was disappointed. For the full 3 hr 30 min (inc 15 min for ice cream) she shouted, seemingly going hoarse in the process. Yes, even in that soliloquoy. And on the rare occasions she wasn't shouting she spat out words with unpleasant meanings such as "incestuous" and "whore". There was so little modulation. And because she'd shouted so much she'd nothing left when scenes arrived that might have demanded shouting.

Two worthwhile changes: Polonius was also played by a woman (as Polonius's wife), power-dressed and doing it in business-speak. This worked when she was being teased by her son, Laertes. One normally assumes P doesn't realise he's being teased; here, replies in board-room talk seem entirely legitimate.

Also, Claudius the king and The Ghost (Hamlet's dead father) are played by the same actor. Since they are supposed to be brothers it's OK.

However, long as it was it wasn't long enough. The more persuasive versions of Hamlet I've seen (Kenneth Branagh) and heard (John Gielgud, Christopher Plummer) have all gone the full 4 hr 30 min. Once you get to know the play, all cuts seem to diminish the sense.

Mind you, I'm not sure Professional Bleeder's bum would have survived the full version.

Thursday 2 April 2015

The magic thumb

Pain. I know about that - a physiological necessity saying things are not as they should be. Message understood, treatment initiated: drugs, hot baths, crucifyingly intrusive massage, and a ban on lolling.

More pain. Look, I don't need extra messages: I accept I am defective. All right, already, I visit the quack who prescribes different drugs and an x-ray appointment at some unknown date.

Another sleepless night. Daughter, Professional Bleeder, suggests TENS Digital Pain Reliever; it worked for her and "it only costs eleven quid." Actually it costs sixteen quid. TENS, or transcutaneous ("through-the-skin") electrical nerve stimulator, requires me to stick sensor pads round the achy bit. So disappointing, so 1950s.

But the pharmacist at least has faith. "Don't turn it to max to begin with," she warns. With three 1.5V AAAs it's not exactly the electric chair.

At home we fiddle distractedly then break for a live-screen transmission of The Rise And Fall Of The City Of Mahagonny (Brecht/Weill) from the Royal Opera House. By now it’s 23.30. Culturally replete I put aside TENS and doze as if in a drum dryer.

The following morning TENS burbles faintly against my skin at level one. Feeble.  Why not whack it up to level four?

Jeepers! What’s this? As if a giant purposeful thumb were smearing itself over the achy bit south-east of my shoulder blade. I can almost sense the thumb-print. Over and over for half an hour. I write inspired prose as the ache fades. Another half hour and it’s gone. Probably temporarily but never mind; for the moment that’ll do.

All hail the Dongdoin Technology Co Ltd, Shenzhen, China.