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● 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 30 August 2015

Pennsylvania: the job market

Working in publishing in the USA between 1966 and 1972 I wrote regularly to my mother.

August 17, 1966. M, editorial director with my then employer, leaves to launch his own magazine; wants me to join him:

□ M approaches me, saying that the secretary and editorial assistant have agreed to join him, and that he is prepared to pay me $8000 (my present salary is $6600). I say I'll think about it

I decide not to go.

That evening M rings up and I tell him. M says he thinks I am a better editor than L (the present editor he tried to poach) and that he will offer me $10,500. I hedge.

I ring L and he laughs: "Hold him off until tomorrow and it'll probably be up to $15,000."□

For reasons I now forget I turn M down. Had all this not happened the big news would have been I'd got myself a car:

□ ... a 1963 Volvo 122S... twin carburettors... radiator blind.... two speed wipers... white-wall tyres (!)...  Nobody at the office can understand why I chose the car although all admit it looks well.□

My mother wants to know what I’d like for my birthday:

□ I’d like something swankily English but can’t think what. Yes I know: a new pocket address book with leather back... The basic article is fairly cheap so it should be possible to have a totally luxurious one, one of the sort I could never afford if I were buying it for myself. Don’t hurry – it must ooze quality.□

The end of the letter is characteristic:

□ Time to stop now - it's the Pirates vs the NY Mets on TV and the Pirates are still heading the National League.□

Wednesday 26 August 2015

Minor anti-climax

Finally it is my birthday. The cards and the brickbats, the kisses and the cuffs, the snarls and the provocative whispers are out of the way and I may reflect, not on the event but on the assumption of great age.

Did I expect to become old, very old? Frankly I didn't. I've always drunk too much (like my Dad but not quite to his extremes) and I expected to be cut off twenty years ago. Cirrhosis of the liver seemed fashionable and I've always lacked fashion.

Failing drink, breathing was often difficult, perhaps from being brought up in the industrial North. Having had one or two hints I found it hard to be philosophical about that but we don't get to choose the door marked Exit.

Words are more fun. I expatiated on "curmudgeon" and accepted it as a single-word label, provided it didn't include the extra softening qualities not covered in the precise definition. But a new word, "caustic", recently cropped up, outside the purlieus of Tone Deaf. Is that me? "Sarcastic in a scathing and bitter way." Probably.

But it's the synonyms for caustic that are so fascinating. I offer these for future reference: cutting, biting, mordant (That's a good one!), derisive, sardonic, scornful, trenchant, acerbic... There's more.

But here’s the diagnosis. In my seventies I suddenly felt the urge to write as well as I could. Whether I achieved this is immaterial, I’m content to die trying. But writing is claustrophobic, selfish, and monomaniacal, and incompatible with the felicities of normal life. One’s always at it, ignoring human politenesses. Obviously I shouldn’t blog but blogging is writing. The tide of generosity ebbs and flows and people get irritated. My gratitude to those still staggering along in support. Roger wilco.

Monday 24 August 2015

Feet to walk to Scunthorpe
Or to do the ootchy-koo

Today I pick up my prescription glasses, in effect my reading glasses. During the two cataract ops my eyes received lenses that made them great for long distances, horrible close up. That's the choice: it's either that or the other way round.

Ever since the first op, back in November, I've made do with with cheapo reading glasses bought at the pharmacy for £5 ($7.50). Today's new glasses are spec'd exactly for my eyes. I can't wait. How I've cossetted my eyes in the interim, how I've ignored other parts of my body.

Time to look elsewhere. My feet are to be found at the southern end of my legs.

Considering my height (6ft 1½in. - 1.87m) my feet aren't all that big at 10½ (Euro 44.5, US 11). However, they're far from perfect. Since I retired twenty years ago I've worn nothing but trainers. As a result my feet have become as soft as a baby's bottom and pebbly beaches are just murder.

I suspect I wore cheap shoes during WW2, the formative years. Thus the fourth toe (left or right from the Big One) is hooked sideways. Tight shoes would kill me, hence trainers.

My feet are quite wide and I'm glad of that; I'm less likely to topple over. Were I a woman I'd look terrible in stilettos; since I'm a man (the jury's out) even worse.

Parts of the right foot lack sensation, the byproduct of a sciatica attack five or six years ago. I don't balance well on one foot so I've ruled out becoming an acrobat.

VR profits from my feet: hers are tiny and the tininess is enhanced in my company.

Technology fascinates me but I wouldn’t swap my feet for prosthetics. Maintenance adds up to a monthly wash.

Saturday 22 August 2015


Items on cake: French grammar and dictionary, cup of coffee, Gorgon Times with pages, Ilyama monitor, keyboard, cup for pens/pencils, portable phone, mouse, Tone Deaf print-out, stapler
On birthdays otherwise intelligent, articulate and attractive people wish you happy birthday, thereby discharging some dim obligation. A worn-out end to conversation; invention and wit out of the window.

But why on earth celebrate birthdays anyway? On the day I was born worldwide tyranny was getting into its stride and a UK male could expect to live to sixty. Far better to celebrate the events, acts and decisions which helped lengthen my life.

1948 M&B tablets taken for meningitis.
1945 End of WW2.
1953 Last long-distance bike ride.
1957 End of RAF national service.
1957 First novel (about national service) written.
1958 Sale of last motorbike.
Final rock-climb.
1960 Start of married life.
1965 Move to centrally-heated accommodation (in USA).
1966 Enthusiasm for asparagus and globe artichokes revealed.
1972 Allopurinol prescribed life-long for gout.
1978 First of two ops for varicose veins.
1993 Huge redundancy payment following sale of mag I edited.
1995 Retirement from journalism.
1998 Move to detached house with three lavs.
2007 Final ski-ing holiday.
2010 Last long-distance swim.
2011 Love of Brahms consummated.  

Mind you there are pluses. In my case a special meal, a special cake, a basket of veggies, with more to come on the real date. Oh, yes, plus lots of empty bottles and dinner at Thai On Wye to follow tonight. All in the company of those best equipped to tolerate my extreme quiddity.

Thursday 20 August 2015

Zach - no longer in sight

The Bear Grylls de nos jours

Grandson Zach is nine, going on ten, and now well beyond my abilities.

He is staying with us for a week or so and today attends his second session of Krafti-Monkeys at the community centre. Just what this involves I am unsure. But I do know (via a message he passed first to VR) that in preparing the ham sandwich for his lunchbox I must not use too much butter as I did two days ago.

On an earlier occasion, this time via a message passed to his mother (Occasional Speeder), thence to VR and thence to me, he complained that I added insufficient milk to his breakfast cornflakes.

I tried to engage him yesterday about soccer.  That there was a certain malicious pleasure to be gained from playing in a defensive position, taking the ball away cleanly from a glamour-boy forward and depriving him of a chance of scoring a goal. He listened attentively then gave me to understand - quite politely - he didn't agree with the malice concept.

At lunch yesterday at Wagamama, one of a chain of Japanese fusion restaurants, he ordered his own main course of noodles, chicken and a mess of vegetables plus a special foaming crushed apple drink. I have no idea what these items are called.

During the day he plays a soccer game on VR's laptop. But kicking the ball seems a minor element; mostly he stares at tables of statistics which he must master as the team's manager. I tell him this looks like office work to me and he smiles faintly.

The days of walking him to the boulangerie in St-Jean-de-la-Blaquière are long gone. Soon he’ll be reading Colette aloud to me in French as I maunder at an old folk’s home.
Slouching near new planting bed chez RR

Monday 17 August 2015

You wanna know why? Here's why

Outdistancing the wingèd chariot
A blogger who'd run out of steam
Like many was given to dream,
Saw himself the new Brad,
Muscle-clad, golden lad,
Then fell back to earth with a scream.

Surveying himself in the glass,
Blotch-faced and unbearably crass,
Realised life's unfair
When one's looks have gone: Where?
And all that remains is an ass.

It's time to resort to disguise,
Discard truth in favour of lies,
When time goes too quickly.
Forget being sickly,
Write novels, in fact fiction'lise.

NOTE: These are limericks and are not serious. They're also easy but, because of that, you gotta get the syllables right. That is:

A - 8
A - 8
B - 6
B - 6
A - 8

Get them right and you're allowed a treat: thus the apostrophe in the last line.

Thursday 13 August 2015

Pass me the Tums

Last night on a BBC4 programme about Socrates the name of the pre-christian Athenian general, Pericles, cropped up. I wondered if Shakespeare would have been surprised that one of his characters had figured in a reasonably serious nationwide discussion on philosophy. Wished I could have told him, watched his face.

In The Guardian, celebrity interviews are often presented in a standardised Q&A form, one question being: who would you invite to dinner. I've always had Graham Greene on my list (Yes, I know he's dead.) but now I've dropped him. The risks of my appearing too naive are just too great.

But time-travelled world greats do present amusing opportunities. I wouldn't bother with Beethoven: he always knew he was great and wouldn't be surprised that crowds assemble for the Waldstein. But how would Mozart react to the fact that Cosi is staged in Tokyo with Japanese sub-titles?

And fame can also go backwards. John Galsworthy (incredibly!) won the Nobel Prize and would be depressed to find he now depended mainly on TV drama adaptations. Mind you, I'd hate to point this out; a lousy trick on a dinner guest.

I'm not sure Kafka is read recreationally these days but did Franz expect this to be the case? I'd leave him off the dinner list; I feel 99% convinced he'd have obscure dietary requirements.

Quisling was executed in 1945 for betraying Norway during WW2. He’d sit far down the table (mine accommodates ten with both leaves installed), not talking. "Hey Vidkun," I'd say. "Your name lives on." Still morose, he’d demand more wine.

But suppose Isaac Newton  (a bit of a social bastard) asked: “And so, RR, what have you done with your life?”  Guess I too would reach for the decanter.

Tuesday 11 August 2015

What I've been up to

C, a friend dating back to the seventies, asked twice to read the recently finished draft of Second Hand. I let her and she said the ending was too abrupt. So I’ve added 10,000 words, including the following:

(Francine) took her purse from her shoulder bag and slid out a passport head-and-shoulders of X. Carrying the photo was a recent decision; she had found it progressively harder to gather all the elements of his face in her mind and combine them. More particularly to envisage the expressions his face was capable of. The photo itself met the rule for passports, notably that there should be no hint of a smile. X looked up at her neutrally, his thoughts unfathomable.

But when was he ever neutral?

Faces in novels are treacherous. Insert more than three details and the reader is lost. Besides readers often envisage a character's face and are outraged if the novel's cover carries a picture that "doesn't look at all like A!" But those who foolishly try to write novels must tackle this problem. Faces must stick. Here's another additional passage:

K (a woman) spoke briskly. “Look, I need you to be honest. Stare me straight in the face and come up with a word. My face isn’t pretty, is it? Not even striking. The closest I’ve come is that of a baby mouse, just delivered, pink and pointed. Not enough skin to go around.”

Meanwhile I'm experimenting, growing my hair long and making my own conclusions. There’s a tendency to romanticise long hair, implying it suggests wildness. Not washing it solves this. In the inset it was, however, washed the day before. Left uncombed and greasy, long hair suggests an old person who just doesn’t care. So what else is new?

Saturday 8 August 2015

My younger brother

Nick's new "home" is 239 miles away - a Hell of a round-trip and my visit might not mean anything to him. That's the way it is with Alzheimer's.

I was warned he had deteriorated but I have only one stratagem anyway: to offer him comical memories of our brotherly lives. A faint smile and perhaps something's happening.

This time I was joined by Nick's daughter Katie, with her one-year-old son Arthur. Katie lives nearer and has for years borne the direct horrors of her father's decline. She brings me up-to-date in her matter-of-fact way. Can saints be matter-of-fact? Surely it's the essence of sainthood.

Nick doesn't recognise any of us.

As Katie, for the hundredth time, tells Nick who Arthur is and how old, I listen. Nick's responses bear no relation to what he's heard. Also, while he can use verbs his vocabulary of nouns is almost non-existent. Thus his replies fade away.

So I copy Katie: I use yeses and nods as if Nick were making sense then remind him of our mother's dog Kim, Nick's dreadful days at public school and sailing in Takista - all with joky twists. It takes an hour for him to get used to me but occasionally there's a slow ghost of smile.

When I leave I ask if he knows who I am. "You're Rod," he says. Katie says afterwards it was a good moment.

The following day I visit a friend who worked on the same newspaper and with whom I share many interests. I arrive at 11.30 am and we get up for dinner at 6.45 pm, having talked solidly in between. Alzheimer’s is not only wretched, it can be ironic.

Saturday 1 August 2015


Jacques 2015
A threnody

.................................Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything. 

                                           As You Like It

Sans teeth? Up front I have a tiger’s grin
Warning the world of catlike treachery.
My molars absent or a trifle thin,
At teatime I'm reduced to flummery.

The eyes are new, thanks to the NHS,
Distant horizons resting on my nose.
Enjoying this new state of forwardness
The future I ignore as otiose.

As long as I can note the gamay grape,
And thus avoid the crus of Beaujolais,
I’d say my taste buds were in perfect shape
While others slurp in vinous disarrary.

But sans the rest of it? An awful rub.
Lacking the rhyme to charm a feminist,
To sing in tune, to dominate a pub,
To run, to bike, to ski, to kiss/be kissed.

Lacking much more: to master langue francaise,
To be admir’d for having slender gams.
Devoid of power to readily amaze
The split infinitive comedians.

To grab all Tories by their smooth lapels
And teach them kindness, if I must by rote,
To tap their tops and generate hells bells,
To fill a bath and see if they may float.

So much to do that never will be done,
Teeth, eyes and taste are really not enough.
I’m overtaken by oblivion
I wish I had been made of sterner stuff.

The end’s the end, we cannot but accept
Our failings and our hasty negligence.
The times we laughed but truly should have wept,
For Jacques was right, and life’s a pestilence.