● Lady Percy moves me - might she move you? CLICK TO FIND OUT
● Plus my novels, stories, verse, vulgar interests, apologies, and singing.
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Wednesday 27 May 2015


Sonnet: On re-visiting 10 Gordon Terrace

So that’s the wretched house that once contained
A bedded child, awaiting, expectant,
To capture murmurs of a love disdained,
My father’s sin, my mother's discontent.

I feared their talk might stumble into deeds,
A curse, perhaps a rupture, leaving me,
A child still influenced by infant needs,
Given to tears and sensed redundancy.

Talk became deeds and then mere silent space,
A couple cut in halves, all comfort flown,
For me a taint of undeserved disgrace,
The withered hopes of youth ungrown.

Older, among the bones of memory,
I ironise adult complacency

Friday 22 May 2015

The secondary womb

I doubt the windows of the Telegraph and Argus building in Bradford had been cleaned since the thirties. Not surprising. I joined the staff a mere six years after WW2 and there'd been other priorities. Stalagmites of filth rose from the frame bottoms with the rest coloured a yellowy-brown. A hint at what the insides of my lungs presently look like.

"Joined the staff" is misleading; I was employed as a tea-boy. Morning, lunchtime and afternoon four of us brought mugs of tea from the canteen to chair-bound sub-editors and reporters hammering away at thirty-year-old Underwood typewriters. Our trays were ingeniously adapted; they had started life within coat-racks, detachable troughs into which wet umbrellas drained. Tea from the mugs slopped over, eventually turning into sludge since the trays were never cleaned.

Squalor reigned but I'd found my spiritual home. I was among the crass and the cynical, the under-educated and the frequently cantankerous, the shabbily dressed and the eternally cigaretted. All however serving a common purpose - turning events into words and ensuring that those words made sense. The talk was of "intros", "paras" and "heads" and the mood obsessional.

As I key in these words today, sixty-five years later, I am drawing on those impromptu lessons where mistakes in syntax were announced to all in a humiliating bellow and one felt grievously one had let the business down.

Training was mainly on the job. After an exhausting day I travelled by bus to watch the first act of, say, Coward's Present Laughter. Returned to the reporters' room, now much quieter, and banged out two hundred words. For which, if it was published, I was paid a penny a line.

School and its failures forgotten, I was starting to grow up.

Tuesday 19 May 2015

Not about pig's cheeks

Every so often a miracle occurs in our household. I have never marked such miracles before so this time I photographed one.

So what are those doodads above? Pig's cheeks, but they are also part of a mystical process. I'm sure in nearly 55 years of marriage we've had pig's cheeks before but I can't recall them and I can't check; for the moment VR slumbereth.

Fact is we ate them in a sort of casserole a few weeks ago (see pic below) and they were routinely delicious. However they are incidental to what I have to say. This post is not really about pig's cheeks, understand?

Months before, in some meatery I have long forgotten, VR saw these miraculous symbols and bought them. I'll never know exactly why. Then she cooked them and we ate them.

Now here's the nature of the miracle. Chez RR, VR does the cooking, day in day out, year after year. I can only judge what she does by my disinclination to do it. I can cook, did cook for a time after I'd retired and VR was still working. But I don't enjoy cooking, I'm harassed by the deadlines and the detailed skills.

Imagining myself in VR's position I can't help thinking that by now I'd be worn down by what seems a burden. Certainly I wouldn't seek to vary the daily round; I wouldn't be tempted by invention; I'd want it to be all over quickly.

But no! On what to me seems a domestic road to Damascus, VR saw something new and responded. The fire of creativity (which burns well ahead of what goes on in the kitchen) was there as an ember and VR breathed upon it. I profited.

Look, it could have been calf's brains, except I don't like them.

To those readers who don't cook - and are lucky enough to be cooked for - I invite you to kneel with me and consider the Arundel Tomb.

Saturday 16 May 2015

Sublime mosquito

We don't make anger, shame or pity but we do make love. Love's an abstract noun, so how do we go about it?

Combining fleshy contact with fleshy movement to cause a sensation similar to scratching a mosquito bite. The rest, they say, is in the mind.

How do we render this fictionally? Most of us don't - out of sheer good taste. Those that feel they must will pause. In the UK there's a literary prize called the Bad Sex Award. It isn't something you'd want on your mantelpiece.

Some of us cheat. Diversion's good. Here's Jana in OoA:

THEY stood naked, etc, etc

(Eliazalde said) “Carino you are tired, I feel it here.”...he knelt beside her, working on the junction between her neck and shoulders, relaxing her spine.

“I may fall asleep,” she said, her voice muffled by the duvet.

“Then I will finish the tortilla. Read a little. Then wake you with Casals.”

Not sex but physiotherapy. And I'm still this side of the Bad Sex Award. Then there's Francine in Second Hand. Here the trick is displacement. Forget sweaty skin, let's substitute a sweaty (but remote) mind:

This is just sensation, she told herself. Like being tickled, the reverse of being hurt. This fits that and brings about the other.

But how about you? How do you comment? Most won't. Only the confident and courageous will.

ECSTATIC (Non-Sexual) NEWS Just got an appointment for my second cataract op: June 29, 8 am. My left eye, the bad one. I can eat and drink what I want because the anaesthetic’s local. But I must be escorted home, mustn’t drive. How about angel’s wings? I can’t wait.

Thursday 14 May 2015

Painful politics - Part 3
The still small voice stilled?

Listen up, especially UK expatriates and UK-sympathetic foreigners.

Rupert Murdoch owns the pay-to-view TV conglomerate Sky. In the UK his main competitor is the BBC which users pay for in one annual lump sum that is a tiny fraction of what Sky costs. For years Murdoch has sought to close down the BBC.

Because the BBC does not fit the conventional idea of market forces, the Tories have sought to modify (ie, castrate) the BBC for ideological reasons.

The new Tory minister of culture is an MP who has campaigned against the BBC.

Verb. sap.

Tuesday 12 May 2015

Out of Lewisham

Captions by C.C-M. (Above) RR looking glum in the face of a (very nice) glass of wine. (Below) VR drinking water while there is wine on the table.
London is England's main cultural swimming pool but out-of-towners like us need a diving board from which to plunge. Ours is in Lewisham a south-eastern suburb, home of the C-Ms.

Apart from being friends dating back to seventies, the C-Ms also represent strong cultural ties in themselves. P.C-M, once a journalist on a mag I worked with, has published Gorgon Times and Out Of Arizona. C.C-M was commissioned to sculpt two of our grandchildren and never was cash more rewardingly invested.

We arrived last Saturday lunchtime, later took a taxi (driven by a former Kosovo-an who was a history in himself) to the Noel Coward theatre in the centre to see Death Of A Salesman. On Sunday a piano-violin recital (Mozart, Brahms) in swanky Blackheath followed by a pretty comprehensive display of paintings by English painter Eric Ravilious in even swankier Dulwich. Then, as the photos prove, we dropped culture and espoused hedonism, drinking three bottles of wine in the C-Ms' sunlit garden. Back to Hereford, Monday morning

Each of the three events would have been worth the journey. I have misgivings about the second half of the Miller play but none at all about Anthony Sher as Willy Loman. The acoustic at the recital grossly favoured the piano (possibly because of large windows behind the players) but the performances, especially in the Brahms, met all my requirements. The Ravilious, my first exposure, was a complete delight. And then the wine... and the sunshine...

Driving home I suffered an attack of yawning. But I had a specific for this: a bottle of Coca Cola kept in the car for at least four years. The taste was much adulterated but the caffeine was as strong as ever. After one glug the yawning ceased. All this under a Tory government!
My favourite at the Ravilious show

Saturday 9 May 2015

Painful politics: part 2

The results of the UK General Election were even worse than I could have imagined and are summed up in these emails:

VR (to elder daughter PB): Bugger!

PB to VR: Quite.

Thursday 7 May 2015

Painful politics

Voted today, but with a heavy heart. I believe masochism will affect the result and I've never favoured self-harm.

Five years ago the Tories inherited national debt at record levels, due to reduced national income and Labour's decision to bail out the banks. And thus was born a golden ideological opportunity that even Mrs Thatcher was denied. Austerity would be the watchword and would be achieved by dismantling the state.

How do you dismantle a state? By cutting employment, services and benefits most of which help the poor and the needy. Thus the last five years.

Austerity hurts and is unfairly distributed. But do you know what? - the more unpalatable the medicine the more the patient imagines it's doing good. Too many  UK citizens are now doggedly habituated to austerity even though there are alternatives. Too many will mark their cross today saying, in effect, whip me harder so I can do my bit.

While others will successfully avoid the whip altogether, welcoming the reborn Middle Ages.

I tried to peg out soldierly, - no use!
One dies of war like any old disease.
The bandage feels like pennies on my eyes.
I have my medals - Discs to make eyes close.

Almost any tiny evocation of WW1 (I'm guessing here) causes my throat to contract. The screw tightens when the speaker fails to complain. War a disease - why didn't I think of that? Medals used in that way - why not? And how well slang works in the first line.

Wilfred Owen (Who else?)

Sunday 3 May 2015

Dull things to do with cars

A Word That Deserved Better
Short story: 1489 words

It wasn’t all bad having Marge drive, Grainger got to see things. Over the new bridge he craned his neck towards the river, following one of the eights, oars outstretched like the legs of a water boatman. Or here, stalled by the lights, side by side with a battered Corsa driven by a girl trying to work her mobile without attracting the law.

The lights changed but nothing moved. Marge drummed on the steering wheel as he might have done. But Grainger was happy enough sitting in the stationary car.

Nearer the supermarket, a small white van edged over. Marge sucked in air noisily and inched forward, closing the gap. Undiscouraged the van driver edged some more and was through, causing Marge to sigh. Grainger, averting his face, thought the van driver very daring.

Traffic was slow into the supermarket car park. Grainger saw only the white van, the back door carrying a single word, Tecalemit. Nothing more.

Quietly, to himself, Grainger pronounced the word: Te-cal-em-it. The syllables slid by easily as if familiar. They were familiar. Like the word itself, back over the decades, back to his childhood. On a poster attached to a garage door at the bottom of Sherborn Road. Near the petrol pumps.

The garage had been the centre of his play life. Sherborn was steep and a wedge of land had been taken from the hill to accommodate the one-storey building. Further up you walked out on to its flat roof used for parking vehicles.  Edging the roof was a flat-topped wall which Grainger and friends tip-toed round, terrifying the neighbours. Amazing how Tecalemit had stuck. 

“Tecalemit.” He said it aloud entering the supermarket and Marge turned.

“A word I knew when I was a kid,” he said.

“What does it mean?”

“For the life of me, I don’t know.”

“That’s not like you, G.” Marge called it out herself. “I see why you like it. There’s a lilt. It could be poetry in another language.”

Inside Marge unfolded the list for the big weekly buy-in and Grainger helped, taking items from top shelves beyond her reach, from low shelves which would have strained her back. His mind dwelling on the Sherborn Road garage.

Back from the garage’s flat roof was an old workshop full of rubbish and divided by an inexplicable low wall. Grainger and his friends tossed the rubbish over the wall, clearing half the floor space. From then on they met there regularly in this secret place. Often when it got dark. Sometimes they lit a fire.

At this time two newcomers joined their group, Bernadette and Terry. Their family had moved into a house in Sherborn Road but the children were only intermittently available. Both were boarders at a school twenty miles away which made them slightly exotic. Even more so the school was “Moravian” a detail that was never explained.

Both Bernadette and Terry were demonstrably better educated than the rest of the group but neither showed off in any way. Both were pleased to sit on the filthy floor of the old workshop and to talk about whatever cropped up, their faces lit up orange by the flames of the fire.

Without realising why Grainger was drawn to Bernadette. Too young to be aware of sexual attraction he knew she wasn’t pretty. Tall and gangly for her age, she wore plaits which drew her hair back and left her face looking skinned. To compensate for acute short-sight she used black-rimmed glasses that appeared to belong to someone much older. In talking she gestured awkwardly, both wrists seemingly disjointed. Despite these features her disposition was attentive and pleasant, her behaviour confident without being assertive.

But her greatest asset was knowing about adult matters and explaining them without being patronising, pitching them exactly at Grainger’s level of understanding. On one occasion in particular.

“My dad,” he had grumbled, “is always talking about politics.”

Bernadette moved her hand suggesting she was on Grainger’s side. “I know. Fathers don’t mind who they bore, do they?”

“So is politics boring?”

“Actually it isn’t. The problem is fathers never take time to explain. They leave you in the dark and dark’s boring.”

“Do you know about politics?”

It was her expression that struck him. At the time he couldn’t describe it, now he saw it as sweetness. Bernadette said, “Oh, bits and pieces you know.”

“Tell me. Bits and piece will do.”

“Well, I’m sure I’ll get it wrong so you must be kind, Grainger. I'm not an expert. Politics is the way we do things so we all get what we need.  Look, you take the bus to school. Suppose a man knocks on your door and says he can do the buses better: more buses so you don't have to wait, faster buses so you get there quicker. If you believe him you can, on a special day, put up your hand to say he can do the buses. If lots of people do that he does the buses and everyone should perhaps be happier."

"But it's not just buses, is it?"

"No, it's everything we need. Lights in the streets so we can see where we're going - some people may be able to do that cheaper. More policemen so burglars can't break in and steal our wirelesses. And this happens all over the country, all at the same time."

"That's politics?"

"Well sort of. The problem is all these things need to be paid for. And there may not be enough money to do them better."

"So the men who want me to put my hand up may be fibbing? And that's why there's so much argument?"

Again that special look. Being friendly, was it? Pleased that he understood? "Now you know as much about politics as I do, Grainger."

The trolley was getting heavier. Grainger looked around and saw Marge bending over the cheese counter. This would take time, Marge was particular about cheese.

When Bernadette had looked the way she did the impression had remained. Long enough for him to be grief-stricken when Bernadette didn’t return to Sherborn Road for the next school holiday. Adults said the family had moved, that they were always moving. But nobody knew why.

Irrationally he wished he’d pointed to the poster on the garage door and drawn Bernadette’s attention to Tecalemit. He was sure she would have said something interesting. But how could he have done that? The word itself had only taken on  meaning with the passage of time. Then it was just a word.

Suddenly he realised they were in the vegetable department and Marge had raised her voice. “I said asparagus or cauliflower. You must be still dreaming about - What was it? -Tecalemit.”

“More or less. But can’t we have both? I can’t choose.”

The irritation on Marge’s face melted away, replaced by affection. “Go on then.”

After they’d filled the car boot Marge said, “You know what? You need to Google Tecalemit. Otherwise you’ll always be wandering.”

“Oh I intend to but I know I’ll be disappointed. It’ll be some dull old thing to do with cars. What matters is that the word has lasted. Linking my childhood: a time when I was regularly surprised connected to a time when surprises rarely happen.”

“All the better I’d say. Surprises at our age are usually for the worse.

After the evening meal which they both still called tea, Grainger went upstairs and switched on the PC. It was as he suspected: Tecalemit roamed worldwide and manufactured equipment for use in garages: lifting devices and lubrication systems, mainly. Yet a small but gratifying surprise had occurred – the way Marge had reacted. Saying the word had a lilt.

On the verge of switching off the PC he remembered Bernadette’s surname. Golspie! Moderately unusual, would it be worth a punt? Breathing more heavily than he cared to acknowledge he re-opened Google. Nothing among the first batch of sites, or the second. But on the sixteenth… a blog. And among the keywords that inexplicable word: Moravia. He found himself breathing through his mouth, quite agitated. Then, abruptly, he turned off the PC.

Downstairs Marge was reading a library book. He summarised what he’d found out about Tecalemit.

“You were right,” she said. “I think it’s an odd word, a good word. It deserves a better home.”

For half an hour he read his own library book but found it hard to concentrate. Finally he said, “Do you remember how we met?”

“I’m not that old. Of course I do.”

“Did I say anything?”

“If it had been Mills and Boon you might have said – sparing my blushes – it was love at first sight. But you being you it had to be different. It had to be engineering talk.”


“Have you forgotten?”

“I’m not sure. Remind me.

“You said I fitted a template you’d carried around for years.”

“Of course I did.”