● 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.

Tuesday 29 September 2015

A small death

Stella's deblogging, joining the sad group, HHB, Julia, RR (not me - another one) and Plutarch, whose names exist only as memorials on my Followers list.

Blogging's day is done. And it's not surprising. Almost everyone fancies being read; even - for a while - fancies doing the writing. But soon the blank screen threatens in the same way a virgin sheet of paper did threaded round the typewriter roller.

Don't for a minute think I'm being superior. Once I cooked, not now. And gardening is a steady agonising climb to my personal Calvary. I write out of habit and because age has despatched other interesting options. I understand. When I wrote for a living unwritten articles sometimes felt like a loaded gun pointed at my temple. Not pleasant.

Some say they're "written out", which isn't true but it's understandable. More often it's a case of coming to the end of easy, accessible subjects. Thereafter dreaming up subjects becomes hard work, followed by the hard work needed to write the stuff. On top of this is the lost pleasure of seeing writing unfold in a way that wasn't - until then - predictable.

Because, of course, writing has a dark side. The results may widen a social circle, but the act of writing shrinks it. The umbilicus becomes the centre of the writer's world. Writers become smart-arse and - worst of all - pedagogic. Feebly they encourage others to enter the noisome dog-kennel they have created.

I'm sorry to lose Stella as I was the others. In effect they stepped away from an occupation which offers little true comfort. Writing is a hair-shirt but without any true justification.

Friday 25 September 2015

Brit writes like Brit

Recently bought Volvo 122S with daughter, now Professional Bleeder, then aged seven

Working in publishing in the USA, 1966 - 1972 I wrote regularly to my mother. In the previous extract (Pennsylvania: The Jobs Market) I mentioned intrigues about head hunting. This later reflection is I'm sorry to say, insufferably smug.

September 4, 1966. The economic news from England seems very depressing and makes me feel guilty of being accused of getting out while the going was good.

Here, of course, I am complimented for my prescience; (saying) I came here through curiosity frequently raises (incredulous) laughter... Americans are not to blame in taking this attitude, there are lots of English people who have come here purely for the money.

I hope I can say that for me the added salary is a pleasurable sideline though I am not refusing my chances to increase it. (Did I say say insufferable smugness? How about unbearable?)

L has predicted that after two or three years here (salary rises will make it) impossible to leave. He is wrong but one thing irks me. When I apply for a job in England I'll bet that employers, apprised of my US salary, will smile smugly and say, "Ah, well, money isn't everything.", as if money was all the US could offer, and as if there was an inevitability about living in England for anyone with integrity. (Uggh, you pompous bastard.)

Writing to the UK forced explanations:

Tomorrow is Labor Day which, paradoxically enough, is a holiday. We plan to Volvo off down the Ohio river towards the town of Marietta; the scenery is claimed to be pleasant. (That’s called damning with faint praise.)


If I have ceased to mention the weather... it hasn’t changed at all. Last week the daily high was 85 deg. Rain brings little relief.

Wednesday 23 September 2015

Sand-strewn salons, cool and deep

Hair (especially women's hair) fascinates me:

Clare  - Gorgon Times
 ... a transformation that Clare had covertly inspected many times during the past few days. Multicoloured highlights, running from root to tip, varying subtly from light brown to dark gold, like trapped sedimentary layers in an exposed cliff. A sauce where cream and chili oil had been added and gently stirred, just once. Colours that simulated movement.

Jana - Out Of Arizona
Her ash blonde urchin cut was still wet as she combed it into two arcs bracketing the sides of her face. With the fingers of her left hand as a scissor-like guide she edged round the extremities with real scissors, removing a precise 17 mm. Heat from the hair dryer caused the edges to curl inwards.

Francine - Second Hand
As they put on their blues Chinelo (Nigerian trainee surgeon) said, “I envy you your hair. I’ve read about the comparison - corn-silk - but never seen it. I love the way it floats and flops blondishly. Your cap contains it like a mesh bag. No cap on earth holds in this wiry hedge of mine."

Judith - Blest Redeemer
Her hair dropped down beyond her shoulder blades and would demand half an hour’s combing, coiling and pinning before she was satisfied... Shorter hair would have been less trouble but would have betrayed her mother’s (whisper): “Long hair isn’t always in fashion, but many people like it.” ...The essence of long hair, (Judith) told herself, was length. And if long hair was admired, longer hair might be admired more.
Presently I’m experimenting. The shampooing phase (rare) opening up the sagacious, the Byronic, the mentally disturbed, the self-aggrandising, the Cairn terrier, the anchorite and the clichĂ© physicist phases. Why be stuck as just an old man?


Monday 21 September 2015

Looking for a reaction

Some years ago I wrote a sort of spy story too long to post. It had a few half-good ideas but it rambled and ended inconclusively. 

Recently I (significantly) re-read it on my Kindle and was horrified by its meanderings. I slashed it, rewrote it, added a very specific and completely new ending, making it much darker. "It hangs together," said VR who has read it three times. "But it's very sad.”

Normally I don’t ask VR to read my stuff, it’s up to her. This time I needed some reaction

Now it's much longer (6300 words). If this extract interests you I can send the whole thing as an email attachment. If you’d like to tell me how it works as a story (ie, don’t bother about participles) I’d appreciate it.

The Little Black Book (extract)

(Matron said) “You lasted six years in Berlin. No one else ever did three. What price did you pay?”

Most agents he knew hated working with women. Especially women with authority. This had never troubled him. “Sex wasn’t a snag. I could rent whores who’d been checked out by doctors from the west. What I lacked was the company of women. Especially in summer - women wearing light-coloured dresses showing their shoulders and bare arms. Sitting outside a cafĂ© with a glass of beer, asking a literate woman about being a woman, that’s what I dreamed about.”

Matron seemed unsurprised...  She asked, “How did you control fear?”

“At any time – awake or half asleep - there are times, dates, locations, physical data, faces, passwords that must be remembered. I’d go through them, counting my beads. It didn’t stifle fear but it brought back my training. It said I was a professional, if that meant anything.”

Wednesday 16 September 2015

Delights of huckstering

Last weekend VR's group showed off its paintings at an exhibition in a village hall off the Abergavenny Road. Since VR had volunteered to man the stand alone on Sunday I kept her company throughout a longish day.

My involvement with the group is normally limited to driving VR to and from the hall on Friday afternoons and attending the Christmas lunch. But since literature is also an art I was encouraged to display my published novels, Gorgon Times and Out Of Arizona. Didn't sell a single copy despite marking them down attractively and letting everyone know they were even cheaper through my blog.

But I did learn something about human behaviour.

I sat distant from my books so I wasn't actually hovering. I could watch  without menace. I'd listed myself as Ewyas Harold Art Group, Chauffeur-Novelist, and that - for a moment - caught their eye, before they passed on, intent unsurprisingly on paintings.

Both books have a plot summary on the back page but that was nearly always ignored. The least-engaged merely stared at the front covers for five or six seconds, trying to work out how the books fitted in with an art exhibition. A small percentage picked up one of the books, flicked pages without stopping, trying to guess the contents through the process of osmosis, then put the book down. A tiny percentage (let’s be honest: three) picked up the book, read the summary, spent between ten and twenty seconds reading. Then put the book down.

I blame myself. Novel writing is a lonely business and this sort of thing makes it even lonelier. But then if I’d wanted company I’d have taken up square-dancing. Or pole squatting.

Friday 11 September 2015

Needs must when t'devil drives

Yesterday, VR having banged her bum in a comparatively minor accident, asked if I'd hang out the washing. It was sheets and VR has a method which simplifies retrieving them from the line, reducing the risk of their touching the ground. I followed her instructions which ran counter to my normal practice. Late afternoon the sheets were dry and I unpegged them, brought them in, and put them away.

VR had expected to take in the sheets herself. Was pleasantly surprised and said so. Since this wasn't a calculated gesture on my part I was touched.

Age and infirmity modify married life. VR is a good, inventive cook and occasionally invites my suggestion. These days my default is away from elaboration and towards standards: spaghetti, chilli, fish pie, shepherd's pie, stews that last two days. I love these traditional dishes and I'm uneasy about ordering up things that demand much kitchen time. On top of her voracious appetite for books (well over 200 a year) VR has taken to rendering flowers using some weird medium called (I think) water-colour pencils. I'd rather she read and drew instead of chopped onions.

But good cooks are proud and must exercise their skills. Above is a ham terrine* which involved time, effort and imagination. Note the thin decorative slices of carrot and gherkin chevrons below the enfolding jelly. Note the corner cut off by VR for my delectation.

Meanwhile I handle the accounts, work which denies decoration. I also pick up The Guardian. My contributions to domestic ease are humbler and less skilled.

Oh, I forgot. I choose the wine, cool the whites, open the bottles and pour out the glasses. I do this with a certain amount of panache.

* May be a galantine.

Monday 7 September 2015

Ejecting at ground level

 For complicated reasons brother Sir Hugh stayed the night with us before embarking on his latest pilgrimage from Boston, Lincolnshire, west to Barmouth on the Welsh coast. What I should have raised but didn't was the French verb that covers these wanderings - errer - which suggests, to English ears at least, they are a mistake.

Well lubricated with drink we discussed the psychology of walking, notably the nit-picking application of "rules". Walks must start and finish at specific points, a yard or two out and the spiritual nature of the project is hopelessly traduced.

As more drink went down we entered the much darker territory of "bailing out" - failing to finish a walk for anything other than force majeure. This is a very serious matter and can leave the unfulfilled walker with deep mental lesions. Guilt enfolds him (I’ve chosen the masculine pronoun deliberately; I believe women walkers are much more well-adjusted.) and he is convinced he has let down the pedestrian community.

I offered this explanation. Walks need not be taken and are therefore an artificial construct. A sore foot and/or an attack of the runs may combine with a heavy shower to bring the artificiality more sharply into focus. The walker becomes uncomfortably aware of the uselessness of what he is doing and requires professional sympathy. Since many walkers are often "getting away from people" psychiatrists are unlikely on the average blasted heath.

An equally artificial construct consists of swimming sufficient pool lengths to cover a mile. I know, I've been there. In embracing an artificial construct one runs the risk of becoming an artificial person. Many have suggested that in my case the change has paid off.

Wednesday 2 September 2015

Time refashioned

Beth mentioned Mary and the Annunciation to me. I, an atheist, googled and was reminded of - touched by - Mary, troubled by Gabriel’s awful announcement. Who would not be troubled? I’ve secularised the ending here without, I hope, entirely corrupting it. A timid feint towards vers libre

Dreaming, wishing

A table, sturdy, quite a craftsman’s job,
Supports a cruse of oil in which a flame,
Gutters an orange glow which circulates
Uncertain circles on the heat-baked floor.

Light to inform the evening’s minor tasks  
A rest from daytime’s harder labouring,
More fit for finer fingers and an eye
That understands the lines of warp and woof.

A linen apron needing TLC,
Roughed by the surfaces of plain-cut beams,
Slit by a blade that slipped against a knot,
The wood’s not what it was ten years ago.

It’s woman’s work to make good manly flaws,
A carpenter must choose a useful wife,
And Mary takes the needle in her stride,
Nipping the thread off with an expert bite.

Another hole to darn, her head is bent,
As plangent words fill corners of the room.
With talk of greetings, blessings soon to come,
A child, a son, a kingdom without end.

Mary’s a’feared, is calmed, told not to fear,
Yet worries still about this motherhood.
For who’s to darn and meet her husband’s needs,
As he works wood to pay for infant food?

Raising her head she sees embracing light,
With power that suffocates the oil-cruse flame,
That steers the needle’s point through linen cloth,
That threads the hitch that says the work is done.

Light to proclaim the shades of right from wrong,
To prove the how and why of intellect,
To stem the tide of brutish ignorance,
To point the way to new equality.