● 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.

Thursday 31 December 2015

Am I really a grown-up?

You remember my casual: "I am toying with taking singing lessons." They're now on!

Next Monday in Little Dewchurch (Hereford has many such villages; quite near is Weston Beggard) I shall open my mouth before a stranger and... what? When I was eight imagining myself singing in public constituted a recurrent nightmare. But I'm a grown-up now. I'm not going to lose sphincter control, am I? Be sent home in the company of an older child?

The moment will tell.

One aim is to be able to sing Schubert's lovely song: An Die Musik (Here's to music). CLICK Janet Baker.

Chosen because of its narrowish dynamic range. But I must also get the stresses right. Here's the first line:

Du holde Kunst in wieviel grauen Stunden
(You gracious art, during so many grey hours...)

I don't read music. Here's how I've notated:

Du holde Kooonst # IN # wee>ee # feelgrauen Stunden.

The moment will tell.

Hardline Hope, a novel (9494 words)
Residents who wanted could chain their bikes to steel hoops cemented into concrete at the entrance to the tower block. Few did. The chains had been strong enough but the bikes had been removed bit by bit, leaving two rusty wheels and a mangled frame which had, over the years, virtually transformed themselves into conceptual art. Getting a bike into the lift would have required artful juggling but the problem didn’t arise since the lift had been inoperative for two months.

Lindsay’s bike was light enough not to have been a problem on the stairs but only without the five-kilo bag of potatoes strapped to the carrier. Five kilos because that was what her mother demanded; saving 5 p on a combination of smaller bags.

Monday 28 December 2015

Weihnachtsmarkt 3. Technoid

In Cologne we stayed in a penthouse - the top floor all to ourselves, reached by a multi-mirrored lift. The ultimate in style, luxury and a soupcon of techno-frustration.

A wall-mounted digital clock hinted at what was to come; showing time, date, temperature and humidity. A whirring noise in our bedroom, eightish in the morning, indicated dawn had arrived and that the blind was automatically rising a foot to prepare us for daylight.

Nothing so old-fashioned as a tap for the bath - more a stepped cascade mid-way along. Initiated by foot-operated levers and prevented from overflowing by photo-electric sensors. Jacuzzi water agitators of course and, when all had flowed away, a few minutes of sighing and hissing that was never explained - perhaps some kind of drying and/or cleaning function.

Even the curtain rail for the shower curtain was sexily circular: shrouding the user in a tube of white.

Occasional Speeder was entranced by the Krups coffee maker; feed it with a sealed pod of fresh grounds and it delivers deliciously rich expresso in less than a minute, start to finish. Both she and I have subsequently bought this device in the UK.

We ate out but had we self-catered we'd have had access to a range of expensive kitchen knives capable of dealing with anything from a roast quail to a half-carcase of beef and handily attached to the wall by a magnet.

The handbowl tap had no turners and worked by hand proximity plus a puzzling button; the plug was not amenable to reason.
Outside the apartment the Russians were handing out literature intended to discourage the Germans from having anything to with Brits. This too was not amenable to reason.

NOTE. I am toying with taking singing lessons. Is this foolish optimism at age eighty? I have yet to approach a teacher and must confess I'm apprehensive at how she (most are women in Herefordshire) might react.

Friday 25 December 2015

Old man goes bonkers

Suddenly I couldn't stand it; last night I bellowed with anger at the TV, contorted by the wilful discrimination.

Beautiful singing in a beautiful building (albeit with acoustics that did nothing for the music) but from a choir which lacked one of the great glories of choral singing. And this despite interspersed religiose readings which harped endlessly about the Son of Man (note that capital letter) and went into almost gynaecological detail about his mother. Recently I've been softening into a passive agnosticism but now my back stiffened; atheism's the only place for men who detest the way other men and smugly masculine institutions still behave as if women had only a biological function in their contracted world.

Not a soprano in sight at the beloved (Ah, the irony!)  King's College carols wing-ding. Of course there never has been and I'd forgotten. VR likes the singing and the tradition otherwise I'd have put on the German Requiem. Later, lobster with Pol Roger champagne shared between us.


Sonnet: On good logistics

We went in strong and used our rightful power
To scorch their kind from flesh to skeletons,
While they – Good grief! – replied within an hour
And left us victims of a thousand suns.

Mountains we’ll need, an ocean and a plain,
Work on an unimaginable scale.
That planet, there, hints at a greenish stain,
We’ll re-locate; let hopefulness prevail!

But which comes first: rock faces or the sea?
And where are ways to generate new force?
Do rivers carve their own geography,
Or are their mossy banks pre-packed at source?

We’ll need some special expertise, I see
It’s rather more than mere accountancy.

Re-done following Marly's gentle guidance.

Thursday 24 December 2015

A word about giving

"And the greatest of these is charity."

Yet regular donations to charity can be distinctly unsatisfying, reminding us only of the myriad other charities we not supporting.
VR donates to several serious and obvious charities but also to one that seems less serious. Book Aid sends second-hand books to bookless areas in Africa. Very commendable. But here's the bit that caught VR's eye and heart: these books are non-instructional and non-improving, they must be entertaining, fictional obviously, light-hearted.

Yes, yes, a child dead from malnutrition cannot be reached by an adult reading aloud from Where The Wild Things Are. But switching from Book Aid to UNICEF leaves others dead from malaria. One would need the judgment of Solomon and the pockets of Croesus to get it entirely right. Books are a form  of light and that too is in short supply.

Me? I donate, otherwise I pursue my own selfish aims. Viz:
Hardline Hope, a novel (8100 words)
... the (wealthy) farmer, besotted by her remote aristocracy, soldiered on, using Remy Martin to ease him through the bad bits. It was only when cuckoldry became continuous and he started driving his giant John Deere with a hip-flask close to hand that resolution loomed. One grim day, typical of the Fens, the tractor lurched over a dyke, shed its driver and then - vindictively it seemed – ran over him as it plunged into Wabberthwaite Drain... Surrounded by acre after acre of the vegetable fields he owned, Greta’s husband, himself reduced to the status of one of his sprout plants, lay in the county hospital sustained by tubing and pumps while his extended family used the courts to (a) have the pumps turned off, and (b) disinherit his widow on the grounds that she rather than the tractor had precipitated his downfall.

Tuesday 22 December 2015

Weihnachtsmarkt 2. Nosh

It's either the Ch. Musar 2003 or 2008 at Beirut
restaurant in Cologne. A noisy, happy evening
A spiritual journey to Cologne? Nah, we were there for fressen, se gaver de or, in English, making pigs of ourselves. Things started off badly en route, in the delightful Belgian town of Leuwen where I cocked up VR's tournedos and my rib-eye steak by carelessly ordering them à point (ie, drained of all life). Oh the shame!

But Beirut, a Lebanese restaurant in Cologne, made up for my booboo. It was packed and we were seated temporarily with the wine list which reminded me why we’d reserved Beirut in the first place. Lebanon is home to Chateau Musar, a great vineyard, and source of a huge dilemma for me: the 2003 (€69) or the 2008 (€55)? My deliberations brought forth the proprietor who chose our meal by ordering a plate of everything on the menu and signalled his approval when I - slightly against my instincts - picked the older wine. The 2003 was magnificent though just about to dive off the edge of a cliff; ordering the 2008 afterwards solved the dilemma and confirmed my instincts.

Am I a lush? An eighty-year-old lush?

We ate meat, tons of it, at Brauhaus Sunner in Walfisch the following evening, where, as mentioned, the star turn was the feisty shouty waitress (left) - super competent, did a good Marlene imitation. Beer, what else?

At La Paix, in Lille (in France) on the way back I ordered blanquette de veau honouring France's greatest culinary tradition - home cooking in a restaurant. An elegantly re-created brasserie which worked.

Just forgot. Starting out we stayed at the Burlington in VR's home town Folkestone in Kent. Ate at the hotel's Bay Tree Grill, where VR's Dad was chef immediately post-WW2. Sentimentalists the lot of us.
VR and Occasional Speeder: Gluhwein mit Rhum

Sunday 20 December 2015

Weihnachtsmarkt 1. People

People not "things".

In France I revel in the linguistic complexity, the need to be specific, the way they provide directions; I respect the French, admire them, am encouraged to compete with them.

But in Germany (we were there for Cologne's Christmas market) I drive away full of affection.

As with the elderly woman in the little tourist train giggling and nodding as she overhears me speculate with VR and Occasional Speeder on a shop called Treff ("It's gotta be from treffen, the verb to meet...").

As with the student at the Chocolate Museum café, seeing me struggle to get out my camera as a Rhine barge goes by, says: "There'll be another soon" and there is. Who grins, but self-deprecatingly, when I ask who'll win the next World Cup: "Germany, but hey..."

PS: We buy our coffee there because of the view; the museum remains a mystery.

As with the fifty-year-old waitress at the Brauhaus Sunner in Wallfisch who squeezes my shoulder and asks "What else can I bring you darleengk?"

As with the guy at the market stall serving us with three potato pancakes (the minimum unit). Told only one of us wants the blob of savoury sauce, has to physically restrain his hand from adding blobs to the other two (It's traditional! you see.) but manages it, after a fearful struggle, because the customer is always right.

As with the fat guy (a rarity in Germany these days) inexpertly playing a game of curling. When I point to a stone chundering on to the wooden walkway and ask riskily: "Zu viele Bier?" (Too much beer?) he laughs uproariously.

Yes the Dom (cathedral) is magnificent, the Rhine enveloping, the market decorations welcoming - but none is human, none talks, none jokes. It’s contact I’m after.

Sunday 13 December 2015

A bit/lot of cheer

HAPPY TIMES! Champagne (that's real champagne - not the sparklers known as cava, prosecco, cremant, sekt, etc.) is cheaper than at any other time in my life.

Why was it so expensive? Not to complicate things: labour-intensive and time-consuming manufacturing procedures.

Was real champagne worth it? Up to you, but the French think so. When, decades ago, some Spanish vineyards sold "Spanish Champagne" the French sued, causing them to desist. Now, if it says "champagne" on the bottle it's been made in eastern France, near the city of Reims, by the traditional method (méthode champenoise).

Let's talk prices. Until fairly recently the lowest going price was about £25 (US: approx $40) a bottle. The big names (Mumm, Pol Roger, Heidsieck, etc) still charge this but may be disposed to deal a bit. What's changed significantly, in the UK at least, is the emergence of smaller, but legitimate, brands going at £10 a pop. (Thanks to Aldi, the German supermarket chain, who led the charge - see pic.)

Is it OK? Who'd ever believe me? But now you can afford to make up your own mind.

Hardline Hope, a novel (6665 words)

(Gayle said) But before that something personal. Your glasses.”

Lindsay sighed. “My glasses. Ah yes.”

“I take it you’ve been asked before.”

“More than once.”

Gayle looked serious. “Do you mind? Do you know what I’m going to say?”

“More or less. I assume you’re as blind as a bat. I assume you wear contacts and hate ‘em. And for two reasons. First because you always know they’re there. Second because you’re ashamed of being a wuss about wearing contacts.”

“I’ll give yew this, Lindsay. You talk straight.”

Note. TD will now be unproductive for a week or so.

Thursday 10 December 2015

Rheumy eyes an advantage?

In politics, "knocking" isn't enough; you must persuade. FDR knew this, so did Churchill and de Gaulle, even Hitler and Mao did initially. Stalin alone didn't need to.

In WS's Julius Caesar, Brutus and others kill Caesar "for love of Rome". At the funeral Brutus explains Caesar was ambitious.

Mark Anthony, Caesar's friend, speaks under severe restraint. In a speech most of us find almost too familiar traditional Antonys (eg, Brando in the movie) seize the oft-repeated line that the killers are "all honourable men" and speak the adjective sneeringly. It isn't enough.

The speech is only 28 lines and in my revelatory Caesar from the BBC's complete boxed set, actor (Keith Michel; never better) and director, Herbert Wise, break it into innumerable - but logical - fragments, with Michel plausibly pausing, speaking “honourable” normally, moving within the crowd. The scene lasts ten well-spent minutes; we watch the crowd, pro-Brutus at first, changing with time - being persuaded.

I've seen several Caesars and last night recognised this difference for the first time. Two points: no one with literary pretensions should lack this boxed set. Second, old age brings rheumy eyes but they may work better than clearer youthful eyes.

Hardline Hope, a novel (6310 words)
Lindsay followed her own instructions (about getting into the car).... The movements were continuous, slightly erotic and self-evidently efficient.

“See that, Jenson,” said Gayle. “Now you could say I’m at the tipping point. I could very well place an order. No promises but it’s in the balance. You’re a smart larrikin, Jenson. What’s your next step?”

Jenson’s smile was rueful. “Steal away. Like the Arabs with their tents.”

“Good on yuh, J. Hope I haven’t been too hard.”

He even managed to walk to the showroom with some dignity.

Tuesday 8 December 2015

From dullness to something else

Other than haslet (a sausagey blob from the sweepings of a butcher’s floor) the dullest sandwich filling is bog-standard, supermarket Cheddar cheese. Piquancy expectations are low; take a bite and you’re into negative values. Yes you can add onion but then it’s a cheese-and-onion sandwich; same with pickled cabbage. With that thinking why not go the whole hog and say the tastiest cheese sandwich is a pork pie?

Assuming you’re claiming to eat a cheese sandwich (a modest claim) the answer lies in a small dab of this or that, so that the structure (two slices of bread and filler) is visibly unchanged. Take this as your starting-point rule. And VR reveals a new twist; to ensure cheese sandwich authenticity, integrate the dab with the butter smeared on the bread. Brilliant!

Yesterday was diet day so no tests. What am I thinking? Crushed chilli paste mixed with the butter! So little paste! The sandwich’s physical integrity remains intact.

Bear in mind: we’re aiming for a flavoured cheese sandwich, not a layered monstrosity which betrays the concept.

Hardline Hope, a novel (5847 words)
Jenson, edging towards them, had now arrived. “Can I help you ladies?” he asked, the expression on his face hopelessly wrong.

Gayle surveyed him eye to eye. “Rickon a Shimatsu (supercar) suits... ladies?”

“Sure. We sold one to a Man City defender’s wife.”

“Who’s famous for being married to a soccer player?”

Jenson simpered which surprised Lindsay. Whatever his oafishness he was supposed to be ace at selling. Jenson said, “Well, yes.”

“Yuh’see Jenson, I’m sort of famous myself. And not for being married to anyone. Seems you’re selling hairy chests here, and not changing the story for those of us who wear bras; or sometimes nothing at all in that department. Get my meaning?”

Sunday 6 December 2015

Kindle treachery

Do we fail more than we succeed? A question only someone who regularly writes fiction would put; failure is more interesting than success, it's got built-in drama.

Anyway the answer is yes. For every success we fail a thousand-fold. Luckily no one knows, these failures are internal. The most prolific source is self-delusion.

A plane flies over; idly we pretend we could become a pilot; we couldn't. Pass a jeweller and imagine running off with the diamonds; we never will. See a tree, type unknown, vow we'll buy a tree book and learn; we never do. Dozens of times a day we fail with nothing proclaimed.

But a Kindle reveals our self-delusion. Mine is several years old. The minute I bought it I trawled the Internet for freebies. But not for JK Rowling or John le Carré (even if they'd been free); I sought free downloads that would prove my intellect: Goethe's autobiography, Canterbury Tales, the Alexander Pushkin collection, The Communist Manifesto, the complete Milton, and more.

They'll be there, easily accessible, I told myself. I'll be able to read them any time. Guess what...

Proof that I'm not an intellectual, then? Better not read, writing's a more sophisticated disguise.

Hardline Hope, a novel (4523 words)
Lindsay smiled. “This is a supercar, Gayle. I could bore you with nought-to-sixty times but a supercar is – and here’s another crummy word – a statement. You run your own business. What’s your line?”

“I’m plugging a hole you Brits desperately need plugging. Computer programs for really big systems, the sort this country always seems to screw up.”

“NHS? The Inland Revenue?”

Gayle said, “Uh-huh. Those and others. Systems where bigness shifts the goalposts; even changes the game itself...

Friday 4 December 2015


The Annunciation is the visitation whereby Mary learns she is to be Christ's mother. This handsome volume, produced as a labour of love by Beth Adams, contains the reactions of "sixteen contemporary poets" to this seminal event.

Although she has many more achievements, Beth is probably best known to readers of Tone Deaf through her blog, The Cassandra Pages. Click HERE for details of the book's availability.

Two contributors will also be familiar. Marly Youmans, published poet and novelist, and a regular commenter on Lucy's blog, has three poems, notably The Annunciation Appears in a Painting by Andrew Wyeth. It starts thus:

Shadows from the angel's wing suffuse
The brittle grass with gold where Wyeth sinks
Into a patch of snow...

While Natalie d'Arbeloff, blogger, artist, polyglot, and Tone Deaf commenter, has translated the Brazilian poet, Vinicius de Moraes, ending:

When I awoke
I smelled of jasmine
An angel was scattering petals
Over me...

The levels elsewhere are equally high but I urge you to find out for yourselves. All contributors bar one are women and it's an unbelievable honour to be the lone male. My verse appeared in Tone Deaf. Click HERE

Hardline Hope, a novel (3704 words).

Lindsay wasn’t even sure Jenson’s prettiness would be worth the effort. Eating out with him, opposite, over a table, would theoretically be a pleasure; a relaxed inspection of his eyelashes. But not really. She’d be sharing his eyelashes with Jenson himself. For Jenson knew he was strong on eyelashes.

Bed? There’d be a mirror, surely.

Fancies me? “Not as much as he fancies himself,” she said to Bronwyn.

Tuesday 1 December 2015

Yet again I need help

I wish I could dance. I've taken lessons but my instincts just couldn't get the hang of it. Beyond that there was the terror (I feel it now, surging up from the soles of my feet) of approaching an unknown woman and begging for the favour of holding her close to me.

Perhaps I read literal meaning into Ol' Frank singing:

And while the rhythm swings
What lovely things I'll be sayin'
Cause what is dancing but
Making love set to music, playin'

So I have characters in my novels do my dancing for me, like buying a ventriloquist’s doll for its conversation. Bringing further problems – where do people dance these days? Other than at weddings or (for all I know) funerals. Correct me if I’m wrong but didn’t couples in movies go to bars where, as a change from getting bladdered, they stood up, took to a smallish dance floor and linked bodies? Do such places still exist? And if so what does the woman do with her handbag?

More than that I need to know what dancing’s like from a woman’s point of view. Forget George Clooney. What’s it like to face a man who could easily (horrifyingly) be an accountant asking to do something that would get him jailed if he did it in Tesco. A British supermarket.

Isn’t there a shocking sense of intrusion? An immediate source of embarrassment or worse? Suppose the guy was the Yorkshire Ripper’s brother? Or someone intending to stand for Parliament in the Conservative interest? Are women simply fearless in these circumstances? Shrugging it off like childbirth or bringing in the washing when it rains?

Please tell. I’ll be eternally grateful.