● 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.

Friday 29 January 2016

Idyll schmiddle

A horrid earworm which attaches banal words to the fifth movement of LvB's Pastoral can easily put you off the whole symphony:

The countree, the countree,
It's better than the town...

What's more, it isn't true. I've got proof.

We lunched at The Three Horsehoes yesterday and it was immediately assumed we were there for the Pensioners' Special. Yes, we look old but not necessarily indigent. VR was satisfied with her fishcakes but the onion gravy that came with my bangers and mash betokened the industrial laboratory rather than the kitchen. Round about, old codgers made a point of not looking at their wives.

We emerged from the pub to an absolutely hideous smell. "Pig-shit," said VR who profanes rarely. The road was covered with unspeakable gobbets that had fathered the smell. Nearby the police spoke to a tractor driver whose trailer had leaked the gobbets.

Inside our car the smell was even worse; the tyres had picked up essence of crushed gobbet turning the interior into a rural sewer. Worse was to come. At home I garaged the car and since the garage is integral with the house the smell eased its way into the utility room and thence to the kitchen. Understand we're not talking horse manure, here; that's quite pleasant. Pigs are nominally vegetarians but this lot had surely feasted on the putrefying bodies of their dead comrades.

Today it rained; never had I so welcomed a downpour.

Tell you what: our previous home was in the intensely urban Kingston-upon-Thames area and nothing our town-life threw at us ever matched that smell. And I don't go for waiters who decide in a flash I'm at the bottom end of the food-chain - in either sense.

Tuesday 26 January 2016

Did I really think it was easy?

Mistakes. During home practice errors are legion. I don't have perfect pitch and picking the right note (especially if it's highish) after a pause can be a lottery, despite fifty repeats.

I sing whole words as whole words instead of splitting them up and glueing them to other word parts; eg, "stepped away" where I should have sung "ste... -e- (sustained note rises here)... pta-way".

I don't breathe in regularly or enough; passages fade like dying whales.

I sing symmetrically varying phrases backwards-way round; thus "...for (down) your (up) lack (back down)..." becomes "...for (up) your (down) lack (back up)..."

Rewards. I told V journalism had taught me to mistrust compliments; her compliments now make a direct appeal. Exhausted by rehearsing the Irish country song I was told I could finish off with the Mozart aria - something of a treat. When I'd sung it V said I sounded "apologetic": the perfect rebuke based on an unexpected epithet. I sang it again, asserting myself, and V said: "Just four weeks, and you own the song!" Ahhh.

But you must love failure too. It is the measure of tiny triumphs.

PS: V's skill is to make me try harder; the last session I came within a squeaker of two octaves. But do I seriously intend to become a castrato? Not in all senses

Hardline Hope, a novel (12,220 words)
Initially she’d been satisfied to escape Stanley’s scrutiny. Selling and all it entailed seemed entirely theoretical, remote, even exotic. And then, convulsively, she reviewed her daily round, recognised its dullness, its repetitions, its lack of skills, the phone calls that lacked status, the meaningless paper, the endless to-ing and fro-ing between other offices with her heels clacking futilely on the floor tiles. Quicker still she remembered Gayle, the very embodiment of self-dependency: “You should be doing better kid.”

Sunday 24 January 2016

Ambushed by age

Ron above, RR below, many years ago
On Friday something old and odd.

Ron lives up North  and had just attended a funeral service at Hereford Cathedral. I'd picked him up in the car and we were off to a rural pub.

A long-time, tenor-voice chorister, and still influenced by the cathedral's music, Ron burst into Jerusalem along the Belmont Road. I joined him once he'd lowered the pitch. We knew each other's habits having started out in journalism in the early fifties with the same newspaper group in Bradford.

Jerusalem despatched, Ron now switched to a black-humoured rock-climbing song based on the tune of Carry Me Back To Green Green Pastures. He and I had both attended Outward Bound Mountain School and had subsequently climbed together. So I sang along too.

We reached the final verse:

Lay down my head towards old Gimmer,
My feet towards Bowfell,
A chunk of granite for my headstone,
An ice-axe to sound my knell.

I winced at the misplaced stress in those last two lines. Rubbishy verse.

Tectonic plates shifted in my mind. I turned to Ron: "Didn't I write that song?" He nodded.

I'd completely forgotten. Was glad I had.

Friday 22 January 2016

Fear of finding something worse?

Ambition is rare. No one younger than twenty can have wanted to work in an insurance company or a government department. Yet many do. Intelligent, well-educated people, trundling along.

I had three ambitions. To become a journalist which my father arranged, making me the beneficiary of nepotism. To go out with a friendly girl (nothing more lurid), solved by leaving sad, troubled Bradford, aged twenty-four. Working in the USA took a year's preparation and some luck but it happened.

Why is ambition rare? Possibly because many are disinclined to look hard-eyed into the future. It's understandable; after all the future’s where we will die so who wants, even theoretically, to occupy that territory? The present is more comforting however unsatisfactory.

From my six years' experience in the US, males there were more ambitious than Brits. Almost all wanted to run their own business. Many Brits (including me) would have preferred to open their veins.

Perhaps ambition's rarity is a national asset. We need someone to administer insurance and help operate, say, the Department of Education. Too much ambition might create an embittered group whose ambition failed them. As Eric Idle said, always look on the bright side of life.

Hardline Hope, a novel (11,977 words)
A voice (Lindsay’s mother) that scratched continuously over the years’ surfaces, always at odds, sometimes no more than routine, more often imbued with unnecessary urgency. Further rituals awaited: the intolerant sigh as Lindsay pushed the bike into the hallway, a hand reaching out for the purchases made at the Mini-Market, an eagerness to find discrepancy.

“No tomatoes?” asked her mother querulously.

Tuesday 19 January 2016

Noise that matters

Why sing?

Perhaps more broadly, why music?

If we ignore humming, whistling and blowing into a cavity created with our palms and fingers, singing has the singular advantages of immediacy and portability. Plus reasonable dynamics and a certain individuality.
Thus if we sing (including sing badly) we can create music which allows us to flirt with unique emotions, evoke memories, appreciate patterns, and all the rest. We may also time travel. Vibration is at the heart of all music and when we sing (in tune, that is) our bodies share frequencies with the people who wrote the stuff we're singing.

Listening to music is rewarding but passive. Making music has the added benefit of achievement. Our tribute to the composers, more involving than mere applause. We may - when we sing - please someone within earshot, but it is unwise to depend on this. Singing is audible but is most eloquent in the way it communicates its effects back to us. A note may be false but we alone may be aware of its good intent.

Hardline Hope, a novel (11,432 words)
Sleaford station – even now she recalled the decorative wooden fringe underhanging the building’s guttering – was where Lindsay had started to loathe her mother. In one day Lindsay moved from a manorial farm-house to a bed-sitter in Lozells, one of Birmingham’s feistier suburbs. Giving up her own bedroom with balcony, hens, ducks and geese to tease, huge hemispheres of skyscape and barns to go a’venturing; entering a cavity lit by one small window, surrounded by grubby wallpaper with an antique scroll pattern in ochre, and a toilet down the landing. A child’s summary of domestic tragedy, perhaps, but there was more to come and the loathing intensified.

“I’d understand if you moved out,” her mother said.

Saturday 16 January 2016

The case for burning books

Three novels I feel I’ve already read.

MODERN MARTYR Tarquin Falafel, a middle-aged man of independent means but no detectable gender, has made a career out of lacking energy; his house-keeper breaks into his breakfast boiled egg for him. A post-doctorate dissertation he is writing on Tunisian sea myths is still only in note form after eleven years. When a letter in North Mesopotamian Arabic is forwarded by his family solicitor he finds he has inherited a villa on the Mediterranean coast in Sidi Bou Said. The weather would alleviate his emphysema but after contemplation in his rose arbour he tears up the letter, preferring a lingering death. “Filigree prose.” The Times Literary Supplement.

TORTURED TEACHER Stanley K, a sociology lecturer without tenure at Smethwick University (née Claggs Road Poly) is engaged in a bitterly unrewarding affair with the wife of the university chaplain. Since both are slaves to an extreme form of masochism, no climax has been forthcoming for twenty-seven months. Their children (dozens) live unfettered lives and repeatedly burn down their parents’ rented accommodation. The lovers die cursing each other when the police over-react to a street demo complaining about prices in the staff canteen, and details of their lives are incorporated in the classic socio-pathic study: Midlands Distopia. “Gritty.” Horse and Hound.

SYSTEMATIC SCRIBE When Clancy Fugits, a self-proclaimed novelist living in Swindon, runs into writer’s block in the first paragraph of his first novel, he discards the theme (West Country autonomy) and writes instead about writer’s block. Thus he is able to justify his lack of progress, join the lecture circuit, become famous for being pelted with bread rolls, claim and be awarded a small Arts Council grant, spend this on one night’s debauchery in Chippenham and go on the dole. “Feasible.” Financial Times.

Tuesday 12 January 2016

Win some, lose some

SINGING LESSON TWO I was shocked. An hour gone in ten minutes and an intellectual weariness round about my breastbone. But what had we done?

I'd itched to show off, to sing V last week's aria (rehearsed endlessly at home) without accompaniment, admitting being iffy about one four-note phrase.

V said we would warm up first. More mini-scales using different sounds - ee, ah, oh - because, V said, different spoken vowel sounds can affect a singer's memory of musical sounds. The mini-scales became more elaborate, based on "bibbies" and "dibbies" which I never entirely mastered.

But - and here's magic! - I managed higher scales, my range now an octave and a half. Warmed up I stood at the music stand, my score laid out, knowing an ee vowel sound could be making things difficult. Some false starts and I was away, never any real problems with the knotty phrase. My half-cocked guesses replaced by true teaching.

V was impressed, saw I had worked hard. But - and this is the way it must be - other defects must now be addressed. V was gently apologetic but I urged her towards hard words. If you love what you're doing you betray it sheltering behind your own false confidence

I'd been "swooping" - sliding up or down to the next note without really having finished with the preceding note.

Then a new song to take home and work out: Irish country and my heart sank. But V knows what I must resolve and after sneaking time with YouTube I am engaged with a poignant, oh-so-simple reflection (She Moved Thro’ the Fair) that any child could sing. Any child perhaps. Somewhat older and your brain can get in the way. Wanna borrow mine for a while?

Monday 11 January 2016

Shakespeare vs. my grey cells

Perhaps I'm seeing too much Shakespeare these days and my poor old 300 kb memory isn't up to the job.

Last night it was the streamed Kenneth Branagh/Judi Dench Winter's Tale and for some time I realised I'd been confusing it with Twelfth Night. Both seasonal you could say but bad cess given the former is primarily a tragedy and the latter a comedy.

VR reminded me the last time we saw Winter's Tale was with Travelling Shakespeare at Malvern where twelve actors, all male, stretched their capacities to the limit and Hermione effected a blonde wig. Before that, perhaps ten years ago, we saw it for the first time on a DVD from our Shakespeare boxed set.

And boy did I need reminding. From both of those versions the main impression I carried away was that of Autolycus (The snapper-up of unconsidered trifles) a nomadic con-man whose role is more decorative than structural. My apologies for poncing as if I were a Shakespeare expert.

Anyway Branagh/Dench were terrific. The first half is about the evolution of Leontes' (ie, Branagh's) jealousy and its awful consequences. I know it's pretty silly to say this but Branagh was so good at minute and continuous detail that the words could have been dispensed with. Well, almost. Did you know he's a "Sir"? I wasn't even sure because he never seems to flaunt it. If a knighthood means anything then he deserves it.

But it was Judi (who's a Dame - the rather dodgy female equivalent of a Sir) who got to my heart. The final scene involves magic which risks staginess. Yet with Judi controlling the transformation (Spoiler alert, etc), the effect reduced me to tears, my second time in one week (see No Longer Just a Listener).

Friday 8 January 2016

Bedtime division

After over half a century of sharing bed-clothes we're about to switch to separate duvets. We tried out the guests' singles last night (see pic) and managed to avoid instituting divorce proceedings this morning; now it's a choice between Brushed Cotton (£25 - £45) and Hungarian White Goose Down (£120 and £220). There's also Silver Pyranean Down at an eye-watering £190 - £310 but that looks like a misspelling; accordingly we're giving it a miss.

Why change? Height's one reason since there's an 11½-in. disparity beween us and this has led to sheet-tugging in the past. Another is a huge difference in sleeping posture: VR (Human imitates hamster) and RR (Recently laid-out corpse). Plus a sizeable reduction in the time spent re-making the bed.

We will lose bedtime communality since I expect accidental touches during the night to become rarer. One might imagine that after fifty-odd  years we should have got used to each other. She may have, I haven't.

However a new domestic institution will profit. These days, after two morning hours at the monitor I get back into bed, we link hands and talk sporadically. Duvets will mean I can slip back without causing a draught.

MY CHRISTMAS table presents included a laminated sheet called Mon Journal 1935, a round-up of events (in French) during the year of my birth. Gloomily and, alas, unwittingly, the French established two years as the duration of national military service that year.

It seems I share a birth-year with Elvis Presley, Francoise Sagan, Pavarotti, Woody Allen and Julie Andrews - a mixed bag you'd have to say. Presley means least to me.

Popular in France a song  called La Guingette a Fermé Les Volets (A small restaurant of that name closed its shutters). Wow!

Monday 4 January 2016

No longer just a listener

LITTLE DEWCHURCH SINGING LESSON This morning V (my teacher as opposed to VR my wife) asked how and when did I sing? Instinctively as I enter the kitchen because of its hard acoustic. Alone in the car.

Why did I suddenly decide on lessons? Not sure about “suddenly”; as to “Why?” possibly through amateur envy. I was prepared to compromise (ie, Might there be a partial way? Might minor improvement be enough? Would an expert’s opinion of my voice alone be useful?).

I admitted to being opinionated but insisted I was in V’s hands; I wanted to learn.

V played ascending triads on the piano, singing along; I copied. This established my range (an octave and a bit). At first I doubted my ability but all went well; it seemed I wasn’t solely listening to her voice, rather throwing my voice instinctively where it ought to go. I was less competent with a three-note turn which preceded the descending series.

I was told to open my mouth wider, to increase the volume, to stop moving my body and my bottom jaw. Then came the first real revelation. V syncopated the sequences of triads (ie, jazzed them up) so that they resembled primitive tunes; these I followed more easily and freely.

V said my singing voice resembled my speaking voice (This was a surprise!) and had a rich quality. I always reckoned it nasal but no, I am a fledgling baritone. I warned her that as an ex-journalist I tended not to respond well to compliments but she was proved right by what followed.

Sarastro’s bass aria, O Isis Und Osiris, from Mozart’s Magic Flute, is short and I know it fairly well. But having V accompany me vocally and on the piano meant I could use the score as a rough guide to the details. This is how V got round my inability to read scores.

Then something utterly marvellous happened. One line in the aria goes:

Stärkt mit Geduld sie in Gefahr___

That final word – Gefahr – is based on three ascending notes, the last two linked, and is a Mozart thumbprint; an effect he uses over and over in his vocal music. As V sang I recognised it immediately. Next time round, guided by the score, I launched myself into the effect and it worked for me as it had for all those famous basses I’ve heard over the years.

Suddenly my throat contracted. On the verge of tears I had to turn away from V. I was following what Mozart had written! Damn me, I was singing Mozart! Good or bad didn’t matter for the moment; I was giant steps away from being just a listener. It was almost too much to bear.

I booked this trial not knowing the outcome. Now I realise I can profit from V’s instruction, that it will be a joy to do so, and that doing so touches on something that has been latent for many years.

How did V know – because she did know – I’d respond this way to this aria after a mere two or three minutes on the phone. (I didn’t send her the note I blogged; I didn’t have her email address). Perhaps that’s real teaching.

PS: Twenty-four hours later. I see the jargon might put some people off. But music has to be technical if one is to progress. What I should have stressed was the sheer fun of singing with an expert; the exhilaration of the noise we were making.

NOTE: This post exceeds my normal 300-word limit. It needed to be complete; it might help readers take the step I took.