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● Plus my novels, stories, verse, vulgar interests, apologies, and singing.
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● See Tone Deaf in New blogger.

Saturday 31 December 2016

2016 ends on a high

“Let’s find a chippie where we can sit down.”

Thus spake Professional Bleeder, urging her aged parents to overturn the myth that Brits may only eat fish-and-chips on the move and out of rolled-up newspaper. As it happened, Hereford, rarely to the fore in anything (incest, simony, coprophagia, even book-reading, have all been civically tried and discarded), had something new to offer. Those hysterical contributors to TripAdvisor were of one voice: Edwards Plaice (definitely no apostrophe) on Grandstand Road was THE place.

The menu was esoteric - listed among the Extras was vinegar at £1.10. Other prices were modest: were they really charging a quid for a sprinkle of Sarson’s? No, that sum bought a whole bottle. New to me; PB insists it’s a tradition.

For me the batter on cod properly deep-fried should be three-dimensional, standing away from the fishy flesh in a thick structure built up from layers of large crusty cells. Edward clearly knew his batter.

Conversely the chips must be limp and flavoury, ideally done in low-boiling-point dripping. They should encourage me to eat them with my fingers; a fork would ruin the tactile experience. Greatly daring I ordered a pickled egg.

To drink, a 500 ml bottle of Butty Bach premium beer by the South Wye Brewery, my preferred libation from the pub pump. Since the bottled version didn’t differ one iota from the draught, I was a contented gorger.

The bill for three came to £27 and change. PB, equally contented, and whose treat this was, dropped £35 on the saucer and waved away the difference. The staff were astounded, perhaps even slightly appalled. But in shrunken, mean-spirited and inward looking Britain one grabs at contentment where one can.

Friday 30 December 2016

None so stupid...

Non-Christmassy Christmas news 1. I posted about this moons ago but have neglected my own good advice. Underpants demand a strategy. If you buy a dozen pairs simultaneously (as I foolishly did several years ago), the elastic in all twelve pairs will fail simultaneously. At Cologne’s Christmas market I sensed the failure as my pants ceased to be two-legged and became a pseudo-kilt, hanging down my thighs beneath my trousers.

Sadness followed. After buying a replacement three-pack at Cologne's Primark (super-cheap clothing) I discovered that interim dieting had shrunk me from XXL to XL and the new pants' hold on my waist was uncertain. Strategy! Schmattergy!

Non-Christmassy Christmas news 2. To practice sustained notes I sing the traditional Welsh song: All Through The Night*. Because it's simple and dates back to my childhood I didn't bother with a score and sang from memory.

Sleep, my love, and peace attend thee
All through the night.

Guardian angels God will lend thee
All through the night.

Soft the drowsy hours are creeping,
Hill and vale in slumber steeping,

Love alone its watch is keeping,
All through the night.

The first, second and fourth couplets (in italics) have the same musical structure. The third (bold face) is musically different and higher, but not impossibly so; it presented a difficulty which I've idiotically lived with for months. Days ago I bought the score. Found that "the" in "Soft the" drops a tone and the difficulty disappears. Except for my bruised ass where I've kicked it.

*© Walter Maynard 

Tuesday 27 December 2016

Instead of reindeer...

Christmas brings incompatibilities, adjustments and the unforeseen.

I'm sitting in the car in Hereford's County Bus Station. Professional Bleeder's bus (from Luton on the other side of the country) is over an hour late but mobile phones have helped cut my wait down to a manageable 15 min. Rain has been spitting without conviction, now it's getting heavier. As the huge National Express whale-of-a-vehicle swings into the station gobbets of water are forming on my windscreen, smearing the view into oblivion. I rush out to guide PB back to the car. Back home I'm forced to change my sodden chinos; heck, why not put on my PJs and my dressing gown?

The family group of seven (Zach is upstairs fiddling with his new computer thingie) is playing Dilemmas: If you were forced, how would you choose between two arms and four legs, or four arms and two legs? Which is preferable: being burned alive or drowning? The rest (all much younger) are complaining at the level of the central heating. Thermostats are screwed down and in Zach's case a window is opened. Next morning the heating refuses to come on. After a panicky twenty minutes the reason is traced to a switch marked Central Heating, obscurely located and never previously used, which cuts off system power. No blame, only relief.

The rest moves on to other relatives. PB, a teacher, stays. She's become an opera buff and we organise ourselves to watch Das Rheingold, first of four operas forming Wagner's Ring cycle, fifteen hours of DVD viewing. No go. The £60 boxed set, bought months ago, is for Blu-Ray players. Instead Bryn Terfel (John the Baptist) gets the chop in Strauss’s SalomĂ©.

Lots of good stuff happens, of course, but it’s less interesting to write about.

Wednesday 21 December 2016


Door-to-door carol-singing is rare these days, a victim of uncharitable pragmatism.  Sung warnings gave way to a bell tinkle or a knock which had to be answered, leaving the resident face to face with a pair of ill-tuned teenagers in effect begging:

We wish you a merry Christmas,
We wish you a merry Christmas,

Now both bell and knock are ignored in the pious hope it's not the police.

For those who pursue the old tradition I am available as a soloist with a repertory of one. The tune is familiar and the libretto's sentiments are unchanged. But there is a political twist, intended as an indirect fraternity with those who recently suffered in Berlin.


Above, as a more direct gesture, daughter Occasional Speeder gazes out from our Cologne appartment at the twin spires of the cathedral which overlooks another innocent Christmas market.  

Saturday 17 December 2016

Future loss

Dass ich so traurig  bin. Heine.
(That I am so sad.)

Sadness, ah, there's a thing

Look, I won't be deserting J. Brahms, L. van Beethoven, R. Schumann, J. S. Bach, R. Wagner,  G. F. Handel, P. Hindemith, R. Strauss. K. Weill (tunesmiths), C. Ludwig, B. Fassbänder, U. Lemper, P. Schreier, DF-D, F. Wunderlich, W. Kempff, W. Backhaus, A-S Mutter, W. Furtwangler, H. von Karajan, E. Jochum, (musicians), M. Schumacher, S. Vettel, E. Degner, H-H Frantzen (vroom-vroomers), T. Martin, J. Voigt (pedallers), H. Schmidt, A. Merkel (presidents), D Bonhoeffer (modern martyr), W. Heisenberg (physicist), G. Grosch (cartoonist), Der Spiegel (muckraker), A. Durer, P. Klee, H. Holbein (daubers),  B. Brecht, F. Schiller, W. G. Sebald, H-H Kirst, T. Mann, G. Grass (scribblers). Or the Pollmeier family, Hattingen-Ruhr, with whom I stayed in 1953...

... but the political connection which I cherished will be lost.

Just back from Cologne where I grabbed lapels and asked if watching Great Britain shrink into Little England would be a sad experience? Yes, definitely, said the Dortmunder I met in a bar (see pic). Yes, said the lady at the tourist office. Yes, said the waiter at the Chocolate Museum. Yes, said the lady on the next seat at Fruhstuck (Who happened to be an Amsterdam academic but you get the idea.)

I went to bed that evening warmed by drink and Rhine-borne affection.

Tuesday 13 December 2016

Aye, lads are like that

My Worst Journeys. An occasional series

That she agreed to a dinner! At Leylands Lane! The stiffness of it. She, her brother, I and laid-out cutlery, all foreseen. Mother bringing in plates.

While I am booted for rock on an empty road “up in the Dales”. Miles to go, too many of them.

Mother smiling artificially at this girl who means so much to me. Mother concerned at my youth, my inexperience, that I might be hurt.

Boots clump on untrafficked tarmac as I stride out painfully. Futilely.

There was a refusal, ah how that hurt. Now this, this unexpectedly formal meal. Was she simply curious...?

My calves ache, I’m walking too quickly and it’s pointless. Nearer to her, yes, but it’s pure theory. I will be late.

.... wanting to read the titles of books on our shelves? But surely she wasn’t that interested.

Late. Which can mean dead. The late lamented. Would I prefer that in a bid for sympathy?

Ash-blonde hair. Figure – no I can’t think about that. A sharp, regional tone of voice, well suited for criticism. Inaudible over the clash of knives and forks on my Mother’s chipped crockery. Imagination’s a bitch, isn’t it?

I walk on into a mist swallowed up by defective memory. Somehow the gap between the Dales road and Leylands Lane was bridged, in time, and anticlimactically. I know only that we met – foregathered sounds appropriate - and there was crisp meaningless talk. Of the meal which had seemed so inexplicable it only exists in the form I imagined it; not a single image now extant. An adolescent fever reduced to a faint uneasiness.

Saturday 10 December 2016


Facebook has interpreted these lines from Messiah for me:

Then shall the eyes of the blind be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb shall sing.

Prejudiced, I’ve ignored Facebook. But I needed info from this service, so I signed up. What could go wrong?

Suddenly it was like a very bad novel: “Threatened, RR saw his whole life scroll before his eyes”. How could I have left such a huge cyberspace footprint?

● Why this huge cluster of Devonians? Ah, yes – because of her and him.
● Joe!
● An optimistic male face – the departed half of a known partnership.
● A vaguely familiar first name, but attached to a cocker spaniel. One of VR’s painting pals (the owner not the dog).

All wanting to be friends!

● But what about this sultry demimondaine from Las Vegas? A link left unguessed.
● Assorted and unknown Herefordians
● My brother.
● A married couple I regard as dodgy.
● Both my daughters.
● An NZ farmer and his wife. Lovely people.

For the first time I understood the absorption of smartphoners – in the supermarket, on buses, near an untouched pint of beer, perhaps on the toilet. Plugged into a huge family which was expanding continuously. Friends to thousands in a to-and-fro of persiflage.

I felt curious but resolute. Facebook discouraged deactivation but I ticked the box. Left this modern Tower of Babel buzzing.

Friday 9 December 2016

If wishes were bikes...

A motor-bike's attractions lie in its very nature.

No clutter, just an engine, two wheels, a frame, a seat and controls.

As a result bikes have a favourable power-to-weight ratio; eg, my car develops 112 kW and weighs 1180 kg whereas the admittedly hairy-chested Honda Fireblade sports bike develops slightly more power yet only weighs 15% of the car. Guess which has the better top speed and acceleration.

A bike has superior ergonomic logic. Car speed is controlled with the foot, bike speed with the more sensitive hand. It's the other way round for gear-changing but a car gear-change moves through an H-pattern whereas the bike's changer moves up and down, always in a vertical plane, and may be three times as quick. Quick gear-changes make an engine more responsive to prevailing circumstances.

Cars are steered manually through a complex linkage which now demands power assistance. A bike is steered via small, intuitive movements of the rider's body, usually assisted by road camber.

A bike is intrinsically unstable, adding risk which, in turn, adds appeal.

In the end, though, a bike is fantastical. Bought as pure indulgence and used selectively it has its points. But a car is superior where the family vehicle must earn its keep. Apart from its obvious flaws a bike can undermine parental obligations.

I last rode a bike in the seventies, a Velocette as illustrated though less clean. I chafed at its antiquity; would have preferred a bike that was more demonstrably beyond my control. Anti-bikers would say that was a death-wish; pro-bikers – eternal optimists – would contrarily say it was a life-wish. I am clearly far too old to ride again but the urge is still there, well buried – like many men who’ve also felt that urge, I suppose.

Wednesday 7 December 2016

Gliding's preferable

SIPs - simple inexpensive pleasures. An occasional series.

This post is not about butter and/or bread it's about my personal attitude towards buttering bread. Margarine has a brief walk-on/walk-off part and can be dealt with quickly. During and immediately after WW2 margarine (Hard g or soft g?) may have been smeared on bread in our household, I wouldn't know. It may have been unpleasant to taste, I wouldn't know that. What I do remember is that margarine-smeared bread carried intense social stigma. Only cads and those living below the poverty line ate it.

Aged about eight I was allowed to spread my own bread - long before the introduction of sliced bread (proof of moral degeneracy according to Daily Mail readers) or microwaves. I didn't enjoy this task. Applying rock-hard butter  to roughly hacked bread resulted in a plateful of crumb-covered greasy balls. Yes there were techniques but adults weren't telling. And don't let's talk about sticking butter under the grill; one always left it there too long.

Toast became even more popular since it better resisted spreading. I think, but cannot be sure, I took the line of least resistance and gave up bread-and-butter for several decades. Marriage seemed to coincide with the ready availability of spreadable butter that was also palatable. Our favoured brand has a sick-making name: Lurpak. But we're not slavish. Kerrygold (above) was on offer. The bread is Polish and is one of the best arguments for retaining EU freedom of movement.

No one has written an ode to spreadable butter and I don't intend to start. No doubt there are atavists who swear by intractable butter. Me, I swear at it.  Spreadable butter has removed a minor irritation which, cumulatively, might have driven me to the grave by now.

Let's laud Lurpak.

Saturday 3 December 2016

Pro or anti?

Here's a dilemma: should I sing Who is Sylvia? in English or German?

For Brexiteers it's a no-brainer. Having been told via the word of God (ie, The Daily Mail) the song was by Shakespeare who, despite a foreign-sounding name, came from the Midlands, it's gotta be like we all speak, innit?

However the setting is by Schubert. Admittedly he was an EU native and therefore to be isolated, yet his setting not only fits the German translation but also the original English. Which is quite clever. And Schubert died young and therefore deserves Brexit's tendency to be maudlin.

Words or music? The choice cannot be resolved and Richard Strauss (alas, another non-Brit) wrote an opera called Capriccio to prove the point.

As a treacherous reactionary Remoaner I'm happy to sing both.

Who is Sylvia?

An Sylvia

But in doing so, despite rusty German, I saw there were textual differences. So I asked my great friend and super-linguist Rouchswalve (whose impossible-to-pronounce blogonym I shorten to RW (zS) - the bracketed letters standing for "zu schwer" or, in Brexit, "too difficult") to re-translate the German. Here it is and as a tribute to her skills and friendliness I shall break my normal 300-word limit for Tone Deaf posts.

Who is Sylvia, O say,
That fields of nature should praise her
Beautiful and tender I watch her approach
Proven by heaven’s grace and traces
That all are devoted to her.

Is she beautiful and good too?
Like gentle childhood, charm refreshes
To her eye rushes Cupid
Where he heals his blindness
And whiles in sweet peace.

For Sylvia, sound, O tune
For lovely Sylvia’s honour
She exceeds every charm by far
Which earth can grant
For her, garlands and chords of strings!