● 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 31 August 2016

Proof of the vital signs

Bad experiences are more fun to write about. But unremitting gloom can clog up one's veins. I have had my ecstatic moments.

Returning to newspapers after RAF national service. Re-joining a meritocracy and disdaining the tyranny of hierarchic numbskulls.

Leaving Yorkshire to work in London. A new world I knew I could bend to my own pleasure.

The beginning of any school summer holiday. A brief end to being talked at; a time for unhampered speculation.

The first controlled parallel turn. Being at one with acres of compacted snow and - blissfully - the mountains.

The first significant date. Tightrope walking during the initial phone call; relief at not tumbling into the abyss of rejection.

Fitness at the Outward Bound Mountain School. Carrying a huge tent and two Primus stoves on my back; joyfully recognising they weren't a burden.

The first all-crawl half-mile. Afterwards champagne bubbles in the blood; more mundanely - endorphins.

Being lunched out by a literary agent who'd read my novel. Was this...? Might I...? Was it too much to...?

Making a group of international journalists laugh. In Japan. I was older than most and profited from that.

Touring the California redwoods with VR in a hired Dodge Charger - all expenses paid. Free lunches do exist.

Being paid bonuses as a magazine editor. Knowing that others weren't.

Arriving in New York; being shaved by a barber. Everyone spoke with a US accent and I seemed to fit in.

Alive and in my eighties. My distaste for death: a lack of vivid conversation

Tuesday 23 August 2016

From flahs to restless waves

“Yes,” says V, “the introduction of We’ll Gather Lilacs is rubbish.”

Not just a repetitive melody but banal words:

Though you are far away,
And life is dull and grey,
I have a scheme, a dream,
To try.
I’m thinking dear of you,
And all I meant to do,
When we’re together,
You and I.
We’ll soon forget our care and pain...

“But,” says V, “it’s a simple duet for you to start with.” I, the beginner, am less likely to be “pulled” off my line when V, the expert, sings something different. A technical matter, then.  Except the score I had downloaded and rehearsed the week before only had the main line, not the second. Which V now requires me to sight-read from her complete score.

Musical chaos, not least because I fail to “jump” the alternating main line. We both agree I need more work. So what next? Shyly I mention I’ve been singing the deliciously mournful Tom Bowling recently; I have the score, might we sing that together but in unison, not as a duet? V doesn’t know Tom but is game.

And thus another musical epiphany . Each time we re-sing Tom’s first verse, V leaps ahead in learning the song, not the lyrics which she tends to improvise but as her glorious soprano frees itself to expose more of the song’s wonders. From the keyboard V shouts out detail that has escaped me and I breathlessly adjust, always for the better. We end up laughing our heads off.

I drive away still chanting: “Here a sheer hulk, lies poor Tom Bowling, the darling of our crew.” wishing everyone I liked could have shared that lesson with me. Next week Lilacs, with other epiphanies lying in wait.

Saturday 20 August 2016

Awake my soul and with the sun...

The digital clock winks 06.17; in eight minutes another day of retirement will begin. I doze on beyond 06.25, my usual getting-up time, to be wakened at 06.55 by rain on the roof, plinking on the metal roof vent.

Retirement has occupied 21 years of my lengthy life: getting up at will, comfortable about money, doing mostly what I want, wasting time on Solitaire. Writing as now, singing musical phrases repeatedly to get them right, devoting an hour a month to ordering wine.

Between April 1951 and August 1995 I messed about in journalism because it was all I ever wanted to do, all I was equipped to do. But on retirement I was glad to go. Last night I dreamed of Stockholm, a lovely city; my work took me to Sweden quite frequently. The dreamed detail of the city – static and dynamic – was pleasingly sharp and coherent. I wish I was there with VR but celebration looms, a moderately ambitious project in a remote part of what may soon be the dis-United Kingdom.

My slippers should be beneath the bedroom chair, ready to slide into without fuss. But the cleaner has slightly displaced them and this irritates the Hell out of me. I wear my heavy dressing gown suspecting it will be unnecessary. It is, I’m already sweating.

Downstairs I use a Supranettes wipe to remove eyelid guck; swig chilled fizzy water from the fridge. Gain old-age relief from peeing in the downstairs loo.

And now here I am, staring at the expensive Ilyama monitor, daydreaming in words. Apart from close family, nobody depends on me; I am not needed; I am retired and thus in a state of mild recklessness. I may do anything but will probably end up doing not much.

Thursday 18 August 2016

The dark of light

Light music worries me. Officially "music with an immediate appeal" which "bridges the gap between classical and popular music", it aims "to entertain and enjoy" and offers "a strong emphasis on melody". My immediate reaction is: why bother?

Light music includes operettas - operas that have shrunk in the wash, typically by Gilbert and Sullivan and Offenbach. Other light composers include Johann (not Richard) Strauss, Sousa, Eric Coates and Robert Farnon none of whom race my motor. Enthusiasts for this genre must have taken a knock when "light" transmuted recently into "lite", generally taken to be insubstantial and unimportant.

So why, you may ask, did I download the score of Ivor Novello's We'll Gather Lilacs In The Spring Again - echt light music - and why am I presently and hurriedly teaching myself to put notes to such lines as:

Although you're far away,
And life is sad and grey.

The obvious answer is: V said I should. The final ten minutes of Monday's lesson were devoted to a scrambled attempt on my part to sight-read Lilacs (Honestly, I'm not that good.) with promise of more to come next Monday.

Now you know me. I'm pretentiously and boringly committed to musical masterworks: Grosse Fuge, Cosi, Ives' Concord sonata, Bach's English Suite. How come I'm prepared to swallow Lilacs? Because, says V, she and I will eventually do it as a duet. I've always yearned to do a duet.

It makes sense. Duets are as thrilling as music gets but for the moment Rodolfo (with Mimi in Boheme), Papageno (with Papagena in Flute) and Wotan (with Brünnhilde in Walkure) are way beyond me. Novello must be my baby-walker

One good thing: Sinatra's done Lilacs.

Saturday 13 August 2016

Up against it

RE-WRITTEN FOR GREATER CLARITY. For much of the past year I've suffered from stress; the basis for this, which I am deliberately omitting, was not medical. There were periods I could push the stress aside but, more recently, as a resolution of the situation got nearer, the stress intensified: I could not sleep, concentrate on writing, or enjoy the daydreaming that comes with retirement. As I saw it the resolution would take one of three forms: one unpleasantly life-changing, another serious but bearable, the third entirely happy.

Late on Friday afternoon the situation was resolved and it led to the third possibility - the happy one.  As a bonus I recognised that the stress may have been the product of my over-imagination. Perhaps, retrospectively, that makes the stress unrealistic, even negligible. It wasn't.

But here's the point I want to consider: my state of mind when I learnt the good news. You'd expect something joyous, wouldn't you? A flash of light? A spreading warmth? A heavenly relaxation?

None of that. Emptiness best describes it. Yes I was glad but gladness is probably an intellectual reaction. But what about emotion - real emotion? There was almost nothing there. I manufactured some emotion by driving to Tesco and buying the store's most expensive champagne. Taittinger, as it happens. VR and I drank it watching cheering events in Brazil's Olympic velodrome.

Half a day later I’m disappointed I wasn't happier. Perhaps this makes me perverse; worse, a lover of cliché endings which I appear to have been denied in this case. Perhaps you, dear reader, think this was a storm in a teacup. But do teacup storms last months?

Friday 12 August 2016


Have I written my blogging self to a standstill?

Works Well (May 2, 2008 to Jan 30, 2012) 548 posts = 1.6m words; 3824 75-word comments, of which one in three are probably mine = 1m words. My comments elsewhere (160 weeks @ six 75-word comments/week = 0.7 m words). WW total 3.3m words.

Tone Deaf (Dec 2 2011 to Aug 7 2016) 689 posts = 2.1m words; 4693 100-word comments, of which one in three are probably mine = 1.6m words; my comments elsewhere (242 weeks @ six 100-word comments/week = 1.5m words). TD total 5.2m words.

Blogging total 8.5m words.

Compared with A la Recherche... 1.3m words, Ulysses 0.3m words, The Man Without Qualities - wordage unknown, only I appear to have read it.

I mean, is there anything left to say?

Well there's always a post about how many words I've written. And an extract from my current novel
Hardship Hope. New title? A Woman Magnified (20,494 words)

Lindsay spread her hands. “I’m a woman. A twenty-first century woman competing with all those Shimatsu*-selling men. Ironically, I need a man’s help. Only a man can judge my effectiveness in a man’s world. Only a man can talk about – how should I put it? – the assets I bring to the party.”

He smiled thinly. “True. But you already know the answers otherwise you’d never have raised the point.”

“So it’s down to instinct. As it always is.” She paused. “Sexual instinct, to be precise.”

*Shimatsu - a range of Japanese supercars.

Sunday 7 August 2016

How we became who we are

The English queue; Americans, prosaically, stand in line. Perhaps because queue is harder to spell.

The English joke about queueing, claiming to be “good at it” but it’s not a joke. Secretly the English see it as the basis of a calm and ordered society, whereas it could suggest national passivity. I’m sure Italians, who are very bad at queueing, especially for ski-lifts, view the English as passive.

My theory is that the English docilely form queues because we must, it is now part of our psyche born of the period 1945 – 1955 which should have been triumphal but was instead devoid of hope. We had just won a war (or that’s what we told ourselves) and we had virtually nothing. What little we had we queued for: infrequent buses, seats in the cinema, a pitiful range of groceries, sweets (US: candy) and – for all I know – accommodation in the cemeteries. Also the services of a doctor.

Then, you didn’t book a doctor’s appointment, most of us didn’t have phones. You turned up, stood then sat in the packed waiting room, went in when it was your turn.

“When it was your turn” – how freighted with emotion those words are. You were met by the bovine stare of two-dozen middle-aged people, all clearly suffering, all wearing worn overcoats probably bought pre-war. You memorised their faces and counted them off as they responded to the doctor’s buzzer. But 24 faces are a lot to remember. And don’t forget, latecomers were replacing those who had gone before.

Nervous tension was palpable. Did the trembling woman in widow’s weeds, carrying a basket, arrive ahead of you? What happened if you accidentally jumped the queue? Tranquillisers hadn’t then been invented but the English were inventing themselves.

Wednesday 3 August 2016

Domino Theory revisited

John Foster Dulles, US secretary of state under Eisenhower, coined The Domino Theory, a more elegant way of saying "one damn thing leads to another." Thus if, say, Andorra goes Commie today, Germany may go tomorrow. A way of keeping us terrified about the Red Bogeyman.

But the theory can also apply domestically.

Months ago one wall of our living room was dominated by custom shelving for about 700 CDs. (Pic above shows 25% of total.) As explained I transferred the CDs to an SD card and now play them through a mini-laptop.

The CDs went up to the attic.

Leaving empty shallow shelves which VR filled temporarily with her collection of little milk jugs.

Then the 18-year-old living room carpet started to wear. But should the replacement carpet be fitted under the CD shelf units (as now) or merely abut them? The carpet, yet to be chosen, will go under the units, which meant an electrician would have to re-position a power socket to make the units mobile.

Meanwhile VR was fed up looking at her jugs  as if through letter-boxes. Could we have more depth variety? But the shelves were irreversibly installed as the units were built; removing them by any known method would damage their neatness. Even DIY expert Sir Hugh baulked.

The electrician had an answer. Using a conventional saw UPSIDE DOWN cut a slot up through the middle of a shelf. Then hit the shelf with a hammer. The shelf breaks at the slot and the two halves tear away from the pegs holding them at the ends. Minor damage within the shelves can be disguised with wood-stain.

Did I mention the new audio system plays the TV through the hi-fi loudspeakers? A great improvement.