● 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.

Wednesday 27 July 2016

Not quite LEJOG

Belmont Road's old council flats, now happily replaced
LEJOG stands for Land's End to John O'Groats, the sort of long-distance walk brother Sir Hugh goes in for. He's at it now in the West Country. I attempt to compete with more modest projects.

They’re laying new gas mains in Belmont Road; murder if I want to drive down to the city, but walking I can race the immobilised cars. More than two months and my hair needs cutting.

I walk hard along adjacent thoroughfares - Dorchester, Stanbury, Chichester – then suddenly bethink myself: I’m an old man hurrying. What’s his problem, people will ask? If it’s his bladder he’s going the wrong way.

Past Tesco’s car-wash, a noisy, thrashing device frequently labelled Out Of Order. I’m not a patron; pay six quid and it rains. Hereford mud is reddish and stands out on a car’s flanks.

Beyond is Tesco itself, convenient but never surprising. No, I tell a lie. This year strawberries were superlative. And robust champagne at a tenner, identifiably from Rheims, not flat prosecco nor insipid cava. Now I’m into Belmont Road and my feet, softened by wearing trainers, start to ache slightly. I should be proud of this self-mortification but at my age you start to worry: am I overdoing things? The alliterative image of a pensioner prostrate on the pavement, other pensioners pondering and powerless.

The council flats on the right have been replaced with smart terraces and I’m glad the city can afford this. What I’m not glad about is the bookie’s shop next to the mini-market. Should the nominally poor be tempted?

This is the tedious bit, I can see half a mile ahead, under the old railway bridge, Beeching-ised in the sixties, now a grossly over-engineered footbridge. On the left the new Polish deli which I welcomed; until I picked out a chunk of smoked pork and found I couldn’t buy it. It carried no price.

Not far now to Body Beautiful, a salon I don’t usually admit to. For obvious reasons

Friday 22 July 2016

Audio experiment


As Nathalie and I discovered, there are various ways of embedding a playable audio file in a post, none intuitive, none in the end effective. For deep-seated personal reasons I was compelled to refuse Marly's recommendation (Mac stuff) and Avus's (YouTube). When MikeM suggested Picosong the process seemed too easy. A glitch occurred but it was down to me, not the software. Second time around I managed to record and play a SONNET I wrote some years ago.

Then I sang and recorded Schubert's


the song I'm presently studying. The minute I knew it worked I deleted it. The performance needed work.

It still does, despite six or seven goes. Two things you must know. This is a classic German Lied where voice and piano enjoy equal standing. My version lasts two minutes, the real thing is double that, the text being separated into lovely islands of sound surrounded by moats of elegant keyboard stuff. Mine is in no sense authentic.

It's also work-in-progress. Without a piano my a capella voice wanders away from the notes. And I'm well aware there's an umlaut in betrübt also that Germans don't pronounce the -chen diminutive suffix the way I do. All I can say it's better than it would have been half a year ago.

Thank you all for your interest, help and patience.

* Now re-sung and re-recorded (many times). Best played fairly quietly.

Thursday 21 July 2016

Am I a natural C-minus?

Shy, died at 31 of an STD, songs for angels and the common herd
No fool like an old fool. Aged eighty I started singing lessons on January 4. Most of my life I've listened to music, live and recorded, mainly classical from operas to string quartets, and I’ve played trumpet, recorder and mouth organ by ear - badly, devoid of rhythmic sensibility. Forgetting some months with a church choir before my voice broke I’d had no formal instruction.
Half a year on; how's it gone?

I now know that technoid terms – semi-quavers and three-four time – are a turn-off however simplified. People’s eyes glaze over. So none of that.
Recently I’ve studied a glorious Schubert song Abschied (Farewell). It contains a phrase Hör verschwimmen... (Listen, becoming blurred...) the first note of which is an E. Whoops! That’s technoid. How about: just reachable by me. But the German word Hör has a bastard vowel to do singingly. There’s a trick involved and I managed to solve part of it myself.

Normally I ignore my reflection while shaving; I’ve seen it before and it’s starting to melt. But the reflection lets me experiment with mouth openings as I sing and these help develop a musical tone of voice. Variable progress there.

As well as V’s expert tuition.

I’ve recorded my own Abschied and sounded, say, bearable. But that’s my opinion. It’s V’s too but she’s frequently kind. I need another audience.

A special kind of audience. Capable of responding to Schubert while making allowances. Perhaps devoid of musical language but able to form judgments beyond generalised adjectives. That sings to itself in unguarded moments – because singing meets some unspecified need. That would be cast down without music.

No sweat, anyway. I don’t yet know how to post my own voice.

Wednesday 20 July 2016

Toil's nobility

Is the word "skiving" still current? I'm not sure. The last time I saw it mentioned seemed to suggest its definition had moved on. For me it means "avoiding work".

Skiving's peak usage in the UK occurred between the early fifties and the mid sixties. A time when young men were wrenched out of civilian life for two years, given hairy ill-fitting uniforms and employed often in repetitive and meaningless work which, the authorities pretended, gave Britain greater justification for acting out its diminished role on the world stage. As an alternative some of these unfortunates were sent to notoriously unstable places and got their heads shot off for their pains. The time of National Service, occasionally sub-titled National Disservice.

Faced with mind-blowingly dull work, many amateur soldiers and airmen (few ended up in the Royal Navy) took to skiving. An understandable displacement therapy. I did it myself. Supposedly guarding acres of offices, mainly unoccupied, I disappeared into the night, sat on a lav and read Animal Farm with an RAF torch.

The trouble was not all skivers took to Orwell. True skivers believed that any occupation - however restrictive - was preferable to the job they'd been told to do. Asked to sweep a room, your true skiver would boast at having avoided this by imprisoning himself in the broom closet for half an hour.

My concern with National Service was that the two years (60m seconds!) passed achingly slowly. And that 30 minutes in a broom closet might only enhance this sensation. Given the option I would have swept the room and accepted the jeers of my so-called co-servicemen on the grounds of my cowardice and truckling to authority.

I skive now. Play Solitaire when I should be writing. But that's different.

Sunday 17 July 2016

The smell of glue

My late father-in-law, who always called me Robin, announced suddenly, "Whenever Robin moves (home) he looks for the nearest library and the nearest off-licence." UK off-licences sell ardent spirits.

These days I buy or download books. Rarely, I read one of VR’s many borrowings. Presently Murakami's "Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage" which starts exotically then fades.

The worst library was the first, in Idle, Bradford, immediately postwar. There was no cash for new books so they re-bound old ones in bomb-proof cardboard. The librarians were two elderly women, one club-footed. Both wore green overalls and, needless to say, hated youth. On the adult shelves was a thick tome "She Married Pushkin" the title of which made me laugh and for which I was shushed. First published in 1939, I see, running to 442 pages.

The most lavish library was in Mount Lebanon, a swanky Pittsburgh suburb. New books were added continuously but I read much H. L. Mencken. The counter staff, all female, were formidably healthy. My last borrowing was in March 1972, since when the library has moved to more imposing premises (See pic).

The smallest library was a trolley with three 1 m shelves on either side, serving the sick quarters of RAF Seletar, Singapore. I was in for incurable athlete’s foot and read to pass the weeks away. I avoided Kingsley Amis’s “Lucky Jim”, foolishly imagining it was a period novel about highwaymen. In the pic, I’m probably reading Aldous Huxley.

Our nearest library here in Belmont, south of Hereford, is under threat of closure because of austerity cuts imposed by our finance minister, George Osborne. Our new prime minister, Theresa May, has fired Osborne and there is some Schadenfreude to be gained in that the library has outlasted pinch-mouthed George.

Friday 15 July 2016

Personal trailer

I bought Marly Youmans’ The Foliate Head because I’ve liked other poems she’s written. She wears her wide experience of literature lightly and I know from her blog, The Palace at 2 am, she has things to say which interest me.

I am not qualified to make collective judgments on Marly as a poet. Instead I’ve chosen one poem which overlaps my life. Here’s a personal and – no doubt – fallible trailer to the main attraction. I responded to the title, The Foliate Head; it supports my impression that Marly enjoys words. Say “foliate” aloud and you’ll understand.

Interregnum concerns a woman apart from the world, through illness or old age or perhaps both. She is said to be “bereft”, which often implies hopelessness but here becomes a word lovely in itself and temporary in meaning since the deprivation is not continuous. The observer asks:

The knot of marriage, will it hold?
Against such cumberings as these?

and offers grounds for optimism.

I am only intermittently a fan of “poetic” language. I much prefer poems fashioned from quotidian events and words. With Interregnum it was the declarative simplicity of the opening lines:

You are alone inside the dark,
Your head is bent as if in prayer ...

that drew me in and if I have any argument it is that “muse” (as in “Sometimes the muse is there to sing”) may be over-freighted. Beyond that, optimism becomes an almost enviable tranquillity with the woman, ruled by Old Winter, drowsing towards the onset of Christmas as her powers “curl in sleep”.

If “elegiac” hadn’t become debased, it would describe the tone of Interregnum, except that the poem is not static. The phrase “the minnow-dart of words” equally applies to the surrounding lines.

The Foliate Head is presently on offer. Click HERE.

Sunday 10 July 2016

How did I do it?

In old age excess reflection can sap you. You replay bygone scenes and note you were a different person. More energetic, more courageous.

I had this romantic view of the USA; Hellenophiles, usually better educated, are said to feel the same about Greece. I was influenced by movies which dwelt on domestic detail: huge front lawns (without fences), newness, meals that would have fed hundreds. More persuasive still was the Saturday Evening Post: coloured shots of barbecues, families sitting in cars with room to spare, mothers with tightly permed hair wearing skirts that jutted as if made of sheet steel. As I read more I learned that Americans drank dry martinis and Schlitz and were rich enough to book motel rooms in order to practice adultery. Britain, in contrast, was wearily and slowly rebuilding itself post-war.

Aged 28 I decided to work there. Many British journalists had done so and I'd read their accounts. The preparation took over a year. I discovered 41 magazines which fitted my modest work experience and typed 41 CVs, reasoning that not taking advantage of the photocopier would prove I was a hard worker. To each CV I attached a head-and-shoulders photo of myself wearing a bow-tie. Then the searching application for a work visa at the US embassy. Resisting the shocked reaction of my mother-in-law. Dispersing the contents of our London flat. Booking a cheap one-way ticket with Loftleidir of Iceland, the only airline still offering translantic flights in propellor-engine planes.

What astonishes me now is my confidence and the will-power needed to resolve a dozen major logistical problems. These days such qualities are in shorter supply, used up in the mid-sixties perhaps. I doubt I'd get on with that bumptious RR; I'd calculated, not in vain, bumptiousness would be expected of me in the US.

Tuesday 5 July 2016

The New Galvanism

As one gets older habit becomes a comforting shawl. Surprise, on the other hand, can be a draught from an open door.

Habit forces me to watch the 10 pm news, to depend too heavily on semi-colons, to wear only my subfusc shirts, to reject ketchup with hamburgers, to grow my hair long rather than fuss with hairdresser appointments and to re-read thrillers instead of improving novels. Plodding steps towards a Humane Society eulogy (which I’ll probably have to write myself) and one of those basketwork coffins. Half the sparse attendance unable to try the wine “because they’re driving.”

Change, when it happens, comes crabwise. Triggered by an event or situation that is in itself innocuous.

Our cleaning lady is efficient but she bustles, soon after 8 am. Both VR and I retreat to our studies and wait her out while the Dyson roars and the taps splash. Should we retreat further? Outdoors? The idea of deliberately wasting time doesn’t appeal.

Happily our supermarket, Tesco, is part of a giant chain that got things wrong and started to tumble. As the abyss opened change for Tesco was essential. Not before time they chose to revamp our local café where, eighteen years ago, we ate the worst meal of our lives. Nothing radical now, except that food is made to order and nothing is left baking under infra-red bulbs. Many seats are upholstered.

I order a small Americano and a bacon roll, VR a latte and something slightly more adventurous. We talk to each other lazily, politely, about non-controversial subjects that interest us both. The crocks are cleared away and still we hang on, ever so slightly reluctant to move. Can a supermarket become a habit?

Friday 1 July 2016

The Rs soldier on

Scenes from domestic life 1. Britain’s future may be bleak but the Robinsons have found comfort; unilaterally VR has acquired new toilet brushes (with porcelain holders) for our three WCs. Foolishly when the brushes were last replaced I retained the old (wooden) holders on aesthetic grounds. They proved too tight; extracting a brush required two hands and this promoted hygienic unease. Now I use the toilets in happy anticipation.

Scenes... 2. “What would you like for Thursday dinner?” asks VR. After fifty-six years of shared life I am well aware this invitation has implicit limits. Neither a cassoulet nor a quail stuffed inside a capon stuffed inside a turkey is on offer. “We haven’t had sausages for ages,” I say, slavering slightly. VR nods assent. “With mash and mushy peas,” I add. VR nods again. What I don’t request is onion gravy. With VR that is a heavenly given.

Scenes... 3. Our Languedoc holidays always include a visit to Les Tilleuls, a remote roadside barbecue grill at St Maurice-de-Navecelles; me for the mutton, VR for the duck breasts. The grill imparts a unique flavour because it is fired by sections of old vine trunk, winnowed from the vineyards when the vine’s grape-growing function comes to an end. I buy a characteristically twisted section for €3, imagining it as chintzy decoration at home. “Il faut le gratter,” says the grill man. Gratter is “to scratch”. But will I have the patience?

Scenes... 4. Cosmos seedlings, bought and planted by me (a most reluctant gardener), have flourished in our holiday absence. A magic and always unexpected event when I do it. Yet I still hate gardening.