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Saturday 30 September 2017

Modus vivendi

Ok, they're two fellers. But you get the idea
I like broad beans, the novels of Elmore Leonard, and impromptu conversations with French people. VR likes none of these things.

VR likes cucumber, the Ring novels and travelling on buses, all of which I detest.

Living comfortably with someone means shutting your eyes to certain antipathies. In some cases accommodating them.
I like cauliflower, VR tolerates it. VR’s favourite vegetable is spinach, I eat small amounts.

That phrase – “for better and for worse” – tends to apply to large-scale privations: the illness of a child, lack of money, unemployment. Happily such horrors are infrequent but the Pork-Pie/Debussy’s-Music Divide may endure for decades. Living together forces you to measure these smaller but nevertheless dark entities and ask: How much does this matter?

Forget the shared enthusiasms, they’re never the issue. Not flushing the toilet is more likely to loom large. I have not yet used the verb “tolerate” and don’t intend to. For me it carries the sin of self-regard. But there’s no space for that.

Why should two broadly intelligent, frequently introspective, differently brought-up people of opposing genders continue to live together long after the first thrilling glow? In some cases by ignoring each other. In others by habit. Even through fear of loneliness. None of these are inspiring reasons. One alternative is to ask: what am I getting out of this? An even harder option is: what am I putting in?

There can be small recognisable rewards. VR read A Dance to the Music of Time decades before I did; finally there was a concurrence. VR now likes string quartets.

I like Benjamin Franklin: He that falls in love with himself will have no rivals.

Friday 22 September 2017

Jobs and jabots

Aged eleven I told my father what job I had in mind. Confirmed it four years later and thus joined the local newspaper, aged fifteen and fifty-one weeks. Most agree journalism was all I was fit for but occasionally a maggot nibbles. Suppose my father had lacked influence, that I’d had to paddle my own canoe.

Anything requiring advanced education (doctor, lawyer, academic, scientist, engineer, etc) must be ruled out since I lack the ability to study. Forget too the flamboyant jobs (politician, musician, stand-up comedian, baseball short-stop) given I have neither manual skills nor a viable personality. Nor the nerve for crime, organised or disorganised.

Un-talented men like me often sell things, notably advertising space on magazines I’ve written for. The requisites are mendacity, which I might manage, and constant self-delusion, which would worry me.

The armed services don’t take kindly to those who argue.

Being a priest is fine provided the intercourse never rises above theoretical debate. But I suspect my sermons would be coarse-grained, I could hardly advocate the adoption of an unproven faith, and the super-natural does not appeal.  I have, however, tended to favour all-black ensembles in recent months.

Catering? For two years I cooked for VR who still liveth. But my repertoire is limited to fifteen dishes; enough for me but probably not for paying customers.

I interview well which is not to say I always get the job. To me this skill has always represented a cul de sac.

My late pal Joe and I once met a mendicant poet. A tenuous existence and eventually one starves. A noble end?

Certain court functionaries wear jabots which I’ve always fancied. But are their wearers paid?

Further suggestions welcomed.

Friday 15 September 2017

An audience of two

Time passes and singing becomes ever more personal. I'll never sing for others so I must sing for myself. Yet singing is communication so I'm like a painter who works in a windowless garden shed and locks the door on his canvases after each session.

Honesty's the key, I mustn't lie to myself. Nor must I be self-indulgent. Home practice (from the score, for memory is treacherous) must always comply with V's instructions:

"This note's double-dotted, a bar later there's a single dotted note; the two differently sustained sounds must balance out over time," V says. Eventually they do and I'm closer to what the composer had in mind.

A fortnight ago, minutes from the end of the lesson, V gave me the score of Im Rhein, by Robert Schumann, words by the poet Heine, from Dichterliebe (Poet's Love) a song cycle I've owned on CD for decades.

Im Rhein, im heiligen Strome,
da spiegelt sich in den Well'n
mit seinem großen Dome
das große, heilige Köln.

(In the Rhine, in the holy stream,
there is mirrored in the waves,
with its great cathedral,
great holy Cologne.)

It's very short, some parts have immediate appeal, some are subtler and it's those I fear. Over the week I listen many times to Jonas Kauffmann singing it, later to a Turkish baritone who is more help. Relating that which I hear to that which is printed, then imitating. At the next lesson I offer V an imperfect but complete version and there's enormous pride in doing that. Then we start on the detail.

Not for the world, alas. I remain in the garden shed but I do, of course, sing for V.

Wednesday 13 September 2017

Me and aviculture

Earlyish on Tuesday we leave the house to Julie, our cleaning lady, for breakfast at Tesco's The Cafe. It's better than it sounds, the talk is often wide-ranging. Yesterday, with VR's help, I asked: had I been a good father to my two daughters?

My view tends to be pessimistic. But am I, in fact, equipped to answer? History can be hard to interpret.

I'm about eight, riding my bike on a dirt road past an urban farm. Hens run across the road and one is briefly entangled in my front wheel. I fall off. The farmer is on to me immediately. A fat authoritarian figure in a flat cap, about ten feet tall, laboriously records my address in a tiny notebook, warning me of legal wrath to come. As he writes the hen I hit, minus neck feathers, re-crosses the road with a censorious look. I blubber, out of control.

I ride home, still blubbering, confess all to my father. He's highly amused, says jokingly he'll counter-sue on behalf of my damaged trousers. I'm appalled by his laughter but my terror at this experience of the adult world quickly dissipates. Was that good parenthood?

My suspicions are it's the sort of parenthood I practised. Excluding my mother I grew up in a male environment with two brothers. I wasn't prepared for daughters and I sense my reaction was rough and ready. We're good friends now (I think) but is this despite those earlier years? Did I depend heavily on VR to smooth things out.

I don't know, I'll never know. When fathers describe the bond they had with their daughters I close my eyes and ears. Are some male embryos endowed with good fatherly instincts? I doubt I'm the one to ask.

Saturday 9 September 2017

Darkness lightened

Sod’s Law reversed! Bedroom curtains in our previous house in Kingston-upon-Thames fitted the present house in Hereford and have hung here for the intervening nineteen years. For me a further nineteen years would have been fine but VR has fussier standards. Replacements were acquired on-line at shocking expense.

Sod’s Law re-applied! We needed a new curtain rail. Foolishly I chose one operated by cord. Attaching it to the wall was a mini-nightmare since the thing is long enough for shark fishing. Apprehension immediately arose when the job was done. This is one of those systems where a single pull opens (or closes) both curtains simultaneously. Thus the cord is over twice the length of the rail and the friction is IMMENSE. It was clear the rail’s tiny mounting brackets, each held by a single inadequate screw and Rawlplug, would not stay put after a few tugs. A self-fulfilling apprehension.

Needless to say rail and brackets are custom-made and the room for improvisation was restricted. A lifetime of bodging came to my rescue and I eventually re-attached the rail more robustly. But the effort required to operate the system continued to be ominous. I mentioned this to VR.

“Why not take the cord out and open the curtains by hand?” she said.

Why not, indeed?

I reflected on the Stone Age. Life was harder then, but simpler. Few caves had curtains. “Why not draw curtains on the cave wall?” suggests Mrs Rubble.

Yes, pragmatism is ageless as is VR.

Saturday 2 September 2017

Another day but no dollars

The composite RR day, aspired to, never attained.

Rise 06.25. In PJs and Totes respond to Tone Deaf commenters. A tiny treasured group which must be cosseted.

Assisted by Jonas Kauffman on YouTube, rehearse Schumann's Im Rhein, im heiligen Strome. Wearing earphones, singing sotto voce since VR sleepeth. The fast staccato bits especially hard.

Consider doing a post: a list with coloured cannonballs, it's easier than writing. My austere life? Must avoid referring to advanced age.

Complete final preparation of Opening Bars - how V taught me this and that. Dedication reads: "To V who made it happen. To VR who said it should happen". Despatch to printer.

To filling station for The Guardian

Ten pages of Fred Vargas' Pars vite et reviens tard. Alas, Pat, French teacher, not well so no Friday lesson. Write her note about linguistic misadventures chasing up three-pin plug adapters in France.

Diet-day lunch. Cuppa-Soup plus half-tsp chili sauce. Apple, satsuma, black coffee. Eagerly read about Trump foolery. Doze on couch, a sensuous delight.

Glance glancingly at novel, Second Hand, rejected by two dozen agents. Virtually ready for vanity printing.

Choose photo of two urinals for front cover of short-story collection, Two Homelands.

More Schumann.

Look longingly at fifth novel, Rictangular Lenses, 28,572 words done. A low priority at the moment.

Ensleeve two guest-room duvets as favour to VR, her arms being shorter than mine.

Read a sonnet written four years ago. Tiring now. Creativity at low ebb.

Go downstairs. Watch Simpsons re-run. Slaver at thought of  microwaved diet dinner.