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● Plus my novels, stories, verse, vulgar interests, apologies, and singing.
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Friday 30 June 2017

Going in harm's way

It's unfashionable (and dangerous!) to admit to hatred. Yet, it seems, I - alone in the developed world - was born with this capacity. Should I suppress it? Freud would say no. I may examine it.

Cucumber. Neural reaction between the vegetable's juices and my fungiform papillae which sickens me. No further explanation needed.

Orff's Carmina Burana. Similar to cucumber. Music seeks to stir emotions; this work's insistent rhythms, plus the sentiments of its libretto, does so admirably. Hatred is an emotion.

Austin Cambridge (an inadequate car). As an owner I endured its shortcomings. In retrospect I hate the fact that it was possible to sell it as adequate.

Margaret Thatcher. Not her, as such, but her willingness to reduce complex human relationships to gross over-simplification in order to support a harsh ideology.

A nameless living comedian. Unexceptional humour underlaid by an obvious, perhaps pathological desire to be loved. Better jokes might help.

Those who hate "pure evil". Their target is non-existent and an intellectual affront. Time spent in refining this claim might remove its supporters from this list.

Unthinking nostalgia. Frequently an enemy of rational thought.

Trump. Not him, as such, but those who support him merely to stay in power. Watch DT closely and you may detect pathos. Lear brought up to date. All we need is another WS.

The mis-selling of Brexit. Through gritted teeth I can – just about – admit Brexit offers certain attractions. But even now its risks and, especially, its costs remain undefined. The lying (which I truly hate) was predominantly by omission; by the time these omissions have been filled in it will be too late.

Long-distance flying. Resembles an extra period of National Service - a subtraction from the life I prefer to lead.

Sunday 25 June 2017

Crowning is bad for you

I'm not against DIY. How would I dare? - I'm so bad at it. But the sanctimony it tends to generate among its practitioners can be a turn-off.

Years ago I bought 20 m of garden hose spooled on to a wind-up pulley. But the pulley's lack of stability and the weight of the extended hose undermined winding-up. Any attempt at speed and the pulley "walked" leading to hose tangles and user irritation.

The pulley came with a mounting plate for attachment to a wall. This was supposed to promote stability. But the irregular forces generated by winding always unshipped the pulley from the plate.

I attached four eyebolts to the wall and used wire to hold the pulley in a fixed position as it sat on the floor. It was difficult to tension the wire which, in any case, quickly broke.

So I wired the pulley to a heavy paving stone and this worked for a year or two until the wire broke. This weekend I drilled holes in the paving stone, introduced bolts to which I attached wire, knowing before I'd finished, that this would fail. It did.

Yesterday I used three metal "laths", bolted down at either end, to hold the pulley's frame to the paving stone. This worked. You can see a "lath" bestriding the front bar of the pulley frame.

Then the sanctimony started. Last night when it was almost dark I went out simply to look at the secured pulley. This morning at 06.25, in my pyjamas, I photographed the pulley for this post. Simultaneously  the smugness grew.

This post is not about DIY (which only provides the background). It is about the effect DIY has on those who do it and communicate the fact. I liken it to self-coronation. 

Wednesday 21 June 2017

Perhaps it was a weed

Feeding me (aged 5 to 10) during WW2 was a nightmare. Not that I wasn't hungry - I ate morning, noon and night - but I was picky and there was so little to be picky about. Vegetables were the problem.

Carrots, parsnips - sweet, woody. Onions, leeks - slimy. Turnips - fit only for cows. Cauliflower - rare, bad karma since one had to eat the green bits. There wasn't much else other than dreaded cabbage.

These days I love cabbage: de-veined, chopped small, seethed in butter for a few minutes with caraway seeds. Then, there were no caraway seeds and anyway I was a suspicious little bugger; I'd have said my mother was failing to disguise cabbage's true and horrible nature.

Good grief, how my mother tried with cabbage. The deck was stacked against her since the only variety available was very dark green with thick leathery leaves and a rank un-vegetably flavour. No way I'd take it straight, even threatened with a light beating and I was normally a terrible coward when facing pain.

Covered with gravy didn't help. Grated cheese? Nah, cheese was rationed.  How about the “good” (ie, quasi-nutritious) water cabbage had been stewed in? No go; cabbage water is, unsurprisingly, cabbage flavoured.

Desperate to make cabbage water palatable mother added an Oxo cube (Ingredients: wheat flour (with added calcium, iron, niacin, thiamin), salt, maize starch, yeast extract, flavour enhancers (monosodium glutamate, disodium guanylate), colour (ammonia caramel), beef fat (4.5%), autolysed yeast extract, dried beef bonestock, flavourings, sugar, acidity regulator (lactic acid), onion powder.

Dig that ammonia caramel!

“Drink it quickly,” mother advised. As far I can remember I did. What followed I’ve forgotten. But then WW2 did finally end and ten years later proper food appeared in the shops.

Thursday 15 June 2017

Difficult, transient, worth it

Not a Cardiff contestant, just someone who's arrived
When were you happiest? The Guardian regularly asks celebrities. Many say "Now" for that’s the point when all one’s happy moments may be reviewed.

A stricter answer is trickier. Continuous happiness, without the brain reminding you of life's sorrows, is of very short duration. I might for instance cite my second date with VR (the first was blind, a more complex event) and on average that may be true. But there must have been self-doubt, embarrassment, the usual suspects. Anyone who claims unremitting happiness for, say, two hours must be fibbing.

The point arose as I watched BBC 4's TV coverage of Cardiff World Singer of The Year, a thirty-year-old international competition for youngish but established voices. Several had been guided by older acquaintances and the consensus was "Enjoy yourself." No doubt, but no performance is perfect and all contestants would remember their faults.

I sing and my faults (ie, unhappinesses) are multitudinous and ever present. But during my last lesson - for four or five seconds - I can, hand on heart, say I was truly happy. Yet again V and I were singing the Mozart duet and for one remarkable moment I was able to disengage and identify the sound we were making together. What happened next created the happiness.

Recognising the "rightness" of that combined sound I surged into a delicately controlled enthusiasm for the piece itself, music I have always loved. Very briefly I was able to simultaneously mobilise brain, heart and throat in a better understanding of the Mozart and to risk an interpretation. Not just singing; singing which contained a response to singing. Not perfect but better. Goodness caught on the wing.

Split infinitive? Never blindly follow rules, occasionally they’re meant to be broken.

Sunday 11 June 2017

Towards Cape Horn

Yesterday I bought the Daily Mail to check how it had reacted to Theresa May's doings, see my last post Foreboding Forgotten.

A bit like the Pope ordering The Story Of O under plain cover. The DM is (Ahem!) quite right-wing and edited by Paul Dacre who has campaigned 25 years against Britain's membership of the EU. It is Britain's most successful newspaper and targets the elderly middle classes. It dislikes the BBC.

A Guardianista I haven't read the DM for 50 years. Just how deep is the gap these days?

After several pages I became worried. With minor exceptions I had no quarrel with the DM's news coverage of May's catastrophic decision to hold an unnecessary general election. Had I fulminated out of pure prejudice?

Then I reached the regular columnists, often the source of the DM's distinctive, frequently shrill tone. Here's Steven Glover on perceived pro-Labour bias in a BBC debate programme:

Why should the BBC have afforded  Corbyn and the sinister McDonnell (shadow finance minister), not to mention the idiotic Diane Abbott, such latitude?... I believe many BBC employees cannot stomach Theresa May's robust approach to Brexit.

Robust? A DM news headline has her "haunted by a sense of failure".

In the DM's agony column someone asks: When Did Lefties Get So Illiberal? I was mildly cheered by the inference that lefties were once thought liberal, but my heart wasn’t in it.

Reading the DM had seemed like a good journalistic idea which turned out depressing. The DM represents the 51.9% majority who voted Brexit in the referendum; I belong to the minority (48.1%, not a negligible figure) who voted the other way.

The Ship Of Fools that is the British state creaks its way towards Cape Horn where storms are forecast. Ho-hum.

Friday 9 June 2017

Foreboding forgotten

Five weeks ago Theresa May, UK prime minister, was head of a Tory party with 338 seats in parliament - an absolute majority of 12 seats. A thin advantage, no doubt, but the polls told her she had a 20-point majority in popularity over the Labour party riven by internal strife and endlessly savaged by the right-wing press, notably The Daily Mail and the two Murdoch papers, The Sun and The Times.

If borne out, 20 points represented a potentially huge victory. TM called a general election, ostensibly to increase her majority and thus strengthen her hand in the forthcoming Brexit negotiations as Britain withdraws from the European Union. In fact to put Labour out of business for the next decade.

May looked awkward out on the stump but the Tories were convinced she was well-loved and agreed to personalise things so that the campaign became Theresa May vs. Labour. Her encounters with the public were confined to small gatherings of the faithful with no heckling. Meanwhile Jeremy Corbyn, Labour's head, met the real electorate. The 20 points shrank but was still a very healthy 10 points yesterday when polling began.

Today the Tories are reduced to 318 seats, so Theresa May has lost 20 seats and her absolute majority. I fear VR and I consumed two bottles of decent red watching telly and went to bed at 4 am, knackered but full of praise for the young people who, we think, turned out in great numbers and made the difference.

Now I'm off to French. Tonight - ice cream

Thursday 8 June 2017



THE GUARDIAN subscriptions department emails me and urges me to make sure my voice is heard. I'll do so but wish my voice was noisier, more like a trumpet (which I used to play), more like Joshua:

Joshua fit the battle of Jericho, Jericho,
Ditto, ditto
And the walls came tumbling down.

A QUESTION I should have put to Theresa May: "When you're asked a question on telly and you either answer another much softer question or utter Tory Central Office boiler-plate, don't your evasions worry you? Do you imagine you've fooled me?"

VR NOTES we need ice cream but we can get it tomorrow. But will we be in the mood to eat ice cream tomorrow?

Tuesday 6 June 2017

So, how was your month?

An unpleasant general election campaign is ending and conflicting events have flitted by.

Young innocents were slaughtered in Manchester, adult innocents (most, it seems, from foreign parts) were slaughtered near London Bridge.

In a tiny speck of national unimportance, V and I sing, full volume, Mozart's duet about the rightness of men and women getting together. V, exhilarated, to be married next month, applauds my progress and delights in lending her voice to the duet. I present her with champagne and, for a moment, we try not to dwell on Manchester kids also entranced by music.

The Sun, The Daily Mail, The Express and other newspapers combine to vilify Jeremy Corbyn. Yet he, one of life's natural protestors, comes over as more human on telly than Theresa May. The Guardian christens TM The MayBot for her mechanical, repetitive and hopelessly abstract responses to questions.

The Hay Festival, a celebration of cultural unity - from Jane Austen to the marvels of human microbiology - arrives and departs. An Italian professor at Oxford University (Oh, hateful, hateful Brexit) discourses wittily on the ways we must react to an IT-dominated world.

Donald Trump quotes the London mayor (a Muslim) out of context and sneers at him. A presidential spokesman suggests DT's tweets could well be ignored.

Our grandson, Ian, arrives early for Hay and prepares casseroles, etc, in advance for ourselves and our guests. An aid to VR whose shingles has now endured almost a year.

Sydney Nolan, Australia’s greatest painter, lived nearby during his final years and a new gallery of his work has opened. We visit. Observe vigorous yet profound paintings, each an unmistakable expression of his quirky personality.

We eat asparagus and refuse to be seduced by promising Labour figures in the opinion polls.

Sunday 4 June 2017

Into the unknown

For as long as they've been apparent I've loathed smartphones (especially Iphones). There are other reasons but I hate the way they invalidate conversation: an impasse occurs and instead of trying to work out the solution via communal reasoning, someone looks up the answer. Seemingly unaware that disconnected facts are quite different from intelligence. And lo, we know the exact height of the Eiffel Tower!

But I'm a reasoning being and I know I must eventually buy a smartphone. I live in an isolated city, Hereford. The ethos is agricultural, the speed of thought glacial, the white heat of technology is nothing more than a dull glow. Yet new, presumably expensive, systems have been installed in the multi-storey car-park and they allow for payment by smartphone. Good idea: coins are such a nuisance. If dull old Hereford feels the need I must ensure I am neither duller nor older than my neighbours.

Another point. Our family found itself sitting on the first-floor of a fish restaurant in Bouzigues, France. Yet the day's specials appeared only on a chalk-board downstairs. Zach was despatched with a smartphone to photograph the board and I, for one, ordered turbot.

Despite being comfortably off, I loathed smartphones because of their capital and operational costs and the sheeplike willingness of many to accept these gross outgoings. Yet daughter Occasional Speeder and grandson Ian held hands with me and revealed I could buy a smartphone for £90 (half that if I wished) and experiment with pay-as-you-go at about £10 a month.

There are other benefits including a real-time display of operational expenditure. I will not watch movies or telly, nor join Facebook, nor – God forbid! – Twitter. Perhaps I risk being corrupted; well, I’ve always stood firm against Murdoch’s Sky.