● 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.

Sunday 26 February 2017

That time of year

Life is presently complicated. Grandson Ian is staying, Borderlines Film Festival started two days ago, eventually the three of us will see 23 titles in a fortnight. Fitting in blog responses and practice for Mozart's An Chloƫ (my most demanding song so far) is a real bastard.

We have seen:

Denial (Feelgood movie about Jewish US academic sued by Holocaust denier David Irving; protean performances; fascinating differences between US and UK law systems. See pic.).

Manchester By The  Sea (Manchester in Massachusetts not Lancashire; central character is guilt-ridden Boston janitor facing new responsibilities; a threnody to inarticulacy).

Hell Or High Water (Formulaic, modern-day bank-robbing in Texas but raised a notch by allusions to poverty).

Toni Erdmann (Over-long but witty/funny German tale about father's concerns for business-woman daughter  racked by getting ahead in unconvincing world of meetings and presentations).

Slack Bay (Grossly over-long French nominal parody about class differences in Northern France in Edwardian times; treated as fantasy-cum-farce but with excess knockabout; made irritating by incorporating six false endings just when viewer's resistance is weakest.

For MikeM

Thursday 23 February 2017

Downhill all the way

Prelude: Brother Sir Hugh has walked heroically in his time: from sea to different sea, along mountain ranges, through gorges. Older now, he reports facing a 3-mile walk and fretting he'll lack material for his blog.
It's upping time and a smear of light downstairs shows through the front-door windows. Fidgety dawn is arriving earlier these days.

I'm at the top of the stairs in my upping-time garb: PJs, heavy fleece dressing gown, loose furry slippers. A decade ago, half-way down, my heels slipped and I bounced on my coccyx; slippers aren't exactly secure and I must go down carefully. I too am older, plus four years more than Sir Hugh.

There are thirteen steps and I recall vaguely there was a similar number at Tyburn, the old public gallows in London. Unlucky for some. It behoves me to hold hard to the handrail but the physics isn't propitious; my grip is in line with the stairs, a grip at right-angles would be stronger.

VR has always urged a tight grip for another reason. Eventually the rail will smoothen and we'll have a patina. Not yet, though; my fingers slide over rough wood underneath the rail. Most descenders will never notice, though.

Directly above the stairs is a tall slab of wall, the backside of our bedroom’s en suite. Hanging on it is VR's huge tapestry of a cockerel. Alas, rarely seen. Going downstairs you don't look out, but down.

My feet slide over the carpeted rim between step and riser. The movement echoes the coccyx slip but today I'm aware and not at risk.

Careful at the bottom. To the unwary there is always one step more. An awful sensation: expecting the ground floor but finding only air.

Distance? 4 metres?

Tuesday 21 February 2017

Comfort's sell-by date

How do you measure time's passage?

Short-term with a wrist-watch (Don't talk about smart phones, p-uh-lease!) Longer term with a calendar. Even longer term by examining physical decay (Gruesome? Yes, but we've all watched those stark science programmes on telly.)

How about via one's material possessions? Because I’m finding that terribly salutary.

We moved to Hereford on VR's birthday in 1998. The house was new, we were its first owners. All those things to buy: three bog brushes because we now had three bogs, a huge load of light-bulbs, carpets. Carpets for a slew of empty rooms. A small fortune but never mind, we wouldn't have to think about carpets ever again. Or, let's say, for a very long time.

And nineteen years is a long time. Along the way we replaced the stair carpet and the one in the living room but we rationalised them; both had got a lot of hammer over the years.

But the bedroom carpet is another matter. It's a comforting dark green which we both love. When my feet touch its texture in the morning, it confirms I've survived another night. But now the dark green is faded and there are bubbles. Goodness we've hardly seemed to walk on it at all, and then often without shoes. It covers the floor as my skin covers my flesh but that isn't the analogy that most gives me collywobbles. I'm more concerned with another parallel: that non-renewable resource known as my mind. I suspect it too has bubbles. Certainly it’s faded.

The carpet we can replace...

Friday 17 February 2017

A new world; the New World

"Stay at the Y," I was told when I reported for work at my new employer in Pittsburgh, late December 1965. Y stood for Young Men's Christian Association.

The USA differed in everything. Britain, now 2500 miles away, had YMCAs but I had no idea what went on inside. Possibly hymn singing and the throwing of medicine balls. In Pittsburgh the Y (see pic) was an inexpensive hotel. But as I walked down the corridor to my surprisingly generous room, old men, clearly retired, languished in the doorways of their rooms. All wore plaid shirts and trousers that started just below their armpits; they watched me speculatively in my three-piece suit, an odd bird.

Later, after a walk, I returned and asked for my key. The receptionist was talking to a visitor about jitneys. The word was new to me and their conversation left me no wiser. What mattered, however, was the visitor's behaviour; regularly he spat decorously into a tin that had contained peanuts. When he left I asked the receptionist if the visitor was ill in some way. Lungs? He laughed and his explanation was impenetrably idiomatic; eventually I worked out the spitting was a sequel to chewing tobacco.

Then it was New Year's Day and the TV in the lounge showed American football, a sport I had never seen. Coverage of the game lasted four hours. Then, quickly, another game began, another four hours. Then another. Dimly I realised the first game had been on the Eastern Seaboard, the second in California, the third in Hawaii. Coverage had followed the availability of daylight.

In my room I opened my portable typewriter and started an airmail to VR, then still in Folkestone, UK, with her parents. I had lots to say.

Tuesday 14 February 2017

Boxes ticked and unticked

Most of the things I wanted to do, I did.

Toured much of Britain by bike and by hitch-hiking in my youth. Entered journalism. Moved from Yorkshire to London. Married and the marriage endured. Regularly and intentionally changed jobs in London. Worked in the USA. Got job back in London; acquired a house. Became magazine editor. Became francophile and bought French holiday home. Retired early, financially comfortable. Found the stamina to write novels. Discovered singing. Kept hair.

Things left undone

Rock climbing. Wish I'd been better at it.

University. Might I have profited? Unrealistic, really, like wishing I'd been handsomer. In terms of formal education I was - and am - subnormal.

Would have appreciated a girlfriend while living in Yorkshire. A few months no more, providing social reassurance there was nothing wrong with me. London proved (to me at least) there wasn't but it's as if Yorkshire defeated me.

Finishing The Brothers Karamazov. Four goes, last one foundering on page 360. Yet I've read and re-read Proust and Joyce.

Conversational intolerance. But might a cure cost too much? Might I now be quieter (=moribund)?

Introspection. An ever-present addiction?

Writing verse. Could I improve or would that be (as I fear) self-delusion? 

Friday 10 February 2017

The Q&A trade

Gummed-up eyelids caused me to misread the bedside clock and I got up an hour early. Not wanting to disturb VR by going back to bed, I took to the downstairs couch and let my mind wander. Thought about interviewing, the basis of my ex-job as a journalist.

I've interviewed hundreds. MDs, engineers, academics, travellers from the top deck of the Clapham omnibus, teachers, men of the cloth, bike racers powered and unpowered, software geeks. Brits, Germans, Americans, the French, Italians, Venezuelans, Antipodeans, Swedes (lots of them), Canucks. In Tokyo I questioned a logistics specialist via a translator, in Geneva - daringly - I interviewed the catering manageress of the World Health Organisation in French.

These weren't adversarial encounters as seen on telly, I was simply after info. Even so, skills are involved. You need to keep your mind open as well as your ears. To compare today’s revelation with a chance remark you overheard six months ago.

Notes are essential. You must keep track of what you're asking so that the answers build up naturally into the article you will eventually write. It's important not to come over as stupid since you'll usually be talking to experts. You have to show you know things, not in depth, shallow will do. I am naturally facetious but I made that work for me. You cannot afford to be shy.

In whodunnits the rule is Cherchez la femme. In my latter-day journalism it was Cherchez l'argent. Cash usually defines success and failure even in activities away from business; many are reticent about this and it's your job to prise them open.

If there’s a rapport it’s exhilarating, a bit like ice-dancing.

Could I do it now, old and enfeebled? I reckon. Wanna try me out?

Monday 6 February 2017

My crutch

Several Tone Deaf commenters belong to religions and I trust this post isn't seen as antagonistic. It shouldn't be, really. Despite the -ism suffix, my atheism is a nothingness, not to be compared with revealed somethings, never to be preached, merely a practice I've rehearsed in my mind for a decade and which happens to suit me.

As a youth I was uncertain and fearful, needing help I said my prayers. In adolescence the uncertainties grew but for identifiable (ie, sexual) reasons, and the vague entity I'd prayed to seemed irrelevant amidst this feverishness. Much later I needed a mental accommodation that allowed me to listen to and enjoy the Agnus Dei while remaining detached from its implications.

I turned to Occam's Razor - the principle that in explaining a thing no more assumptions should be made than are necessary. In short, go for what's simple.

So: I am able to think and thought can lead to understanding. Increasing my understanding of things seems desirable, since it keeps mystery at bay. Mystery may have its aesthetic attractions but accepting it as a guiding principle doesn't help when there's a need to penetrate political change, to explain why some books are more truthful than others, to compile a theory for friendship, and to arrive at a solution for a defective central heating boiler.

But thought and understanding need to be tested for their validity. The next useful step is to express them as accurately as possible in permanent form. Otherwise writing. I am now in a position to tackle the Agnus Dei which I will, but not now. My priorities say Trump. 

Wednesday 1 February 2017

Oblivion denied

My Worst Journeys. An occasional series

We holidayed in New Zealand three times. Travelling there was hellish although eventually we reduced the torment somewhat by stopping off in Kuala Lumpur at a hotel with a swimming pool. Flight details are blurred since I ceased to be the person I am, became shrunken, reduced from three-dimensions to two - a poppadum dropped briefly into the frying pan, devoid of intellectual resources, desperate, inchoate. A victim of twenty-first century irony whereby modest affluence and advanced technology allowed me to undergo a form of torture previously limited to the rich.

The horrors started before take-off. Then, our carrier, Japanese Air Lines, had seating where the bum-to-kneecap dimension was 29 in. (vs. 32 in. on, say, United). As if my thighs were nailed into a cast-iron coffin. For fourteen hours.

Lunch consisted of dull western-style chicken and sushi. I opted to go native and sushi proved even duller - flavourless stodge. The small screen offered five US movies exquisitely chosen for their banality, laddishness, shouted dialogue and twanging background.

These objective terrors were bad but the subjective ones were worse. I needed an occupation that obliterated time. Of course I had books but books read solely for this purpose change subtly; they realise they are being betrayed and lose their power to distract. Later I acquired an MP3 player but engine noise overpowered the lower frequencies. Mindlessness is the key. Later still I was given a device which played Solitaire and nothing else; perfect, but by then we'd given up on New Zealand.

We are endowed with the ability to think constructively, to reflect, to guess at the future and to dwell on fond memories. Long-distance flight sets these abilities at nought. An arbitrary jail sentence.