Friday 27 October 2017

Terse judgments

Twenty everyday jobs worse than being retired (with reasons):

Horticulturalist. Bending.
Member of royal household. Obsequiousness.
Farm labourer. Hours, pay, future.
Pimp. Hell’s certainty.
London estate agent. Hell’s uncertainty
Passport inspector. Despair’s herald.
Brain surgeon. Odds against getting it right.
Catwalk model. Vacuity.
Bank clerk. Counting the notes; mis-counting the notes.
Shelf stacker. Supermarket customers.
Grave-digger. Six feet is a long way down.
UK language teacher. Futility,
Tyre fitter. Smell of rubber.
Hereford restaurant waiter. Size, or absence, of tips.
Palm reader. Who’s doing yours?
Barman. Wit of drunks.
Social service worker. Ever perceived as being wrong.
Prime minister. Transience.
F1 racer. Office space.
Deity. Believers’ demands.

Ten much rarer occupations better than being retired (with reasons)

Poet. Daily unreality.
Singing student. Self-hypnosis.
Fish-and-chip shop owner. Dispensing good value
Computer repairman. Prestidigitation.
Radio actor. Faces cease to matter
Manicurist. Faces cease to matter.
Asparagus grower. Delight on tap.
Train driver. Remoteness, free travel.
Political columnist. Making fiction work.
Being Stephanie Flanders. God loves me.

Friday 20 October 2017


I’ve given up verse but not doggerel. Below is a lament for Tone Deaf’s shrunken contacts list and should be sung to Pete Seeger’s most famous tune.

Lacrimosa dies illa

Where do all the bloggers go,
Where do all the bloggers go,
Tomb-stones away?
Where do all the bloggers go?
To the new reality,
Faces that smile at them,
Words in the here and now.

Far beyond our dialogue,
To the land of give and take,
Handshakes? Here's mine.
Welcome raw immediacy,
Touch and sight available,
Humans not cyber code,
Breaths on each brightened cheek.

What must we remainers do,
Writing for survival?
Burdened by longevity,
Word-length is time.
Take the time and build on time,
Make-believe eternity,
Pick from the tones to heart,
Sing out with fervency.

OS in NYC: a PS

Younger daughter, Occasional Speeder, now back in Gloucestershire from NYC and jet-lagged into next Christmas, would like you all to know she did manage this while on holiday.

Thursday 19 October 2017


FOOL’S ERRAND? My  first step was to find out whether singing lessons would be a fool’s errand. When I put the question the voice at the other end of the line said age didn’t matter but desire did. At the time I wasn’t entirely sure if my enquiry hinged on anything as positive as desire or if I was simply toying with a whim. I think I was prepared to accept a professional verdict that given much of my body was inevitably octogenarian this probably also applied to my voicebox. That I might only expect to croak, a verb with two meanings, neither pleasant.

AND HEREFORD may have been significant in another way. The kitchen in the new house is large and has a fine acoustic; at lunchtime I come down from my study, look out towards the Malverns and burst into a rough and ready account of my Grannie’s favourite hymn, When I Survey The Wondrous Cross. Not from any religious conviction, although my earlier singing voice did have that authentic churchy wobble, the default sound from most men at funerals responding to a CD cranking up How Great Thou Art.

SO WHY did I forsake male teachers? I could blame Mozart. For me Figaro is the greatest opera ever written. In it you’ll find plenty of meaty singing for the men but there can be no doubt women get the biggest and tastiest slice of the brisket. Think Dove Sono, think Voi che sapete, think  Deh vieni. I may have been ignorant about teaching singing but I’m a sucker for Mozart’s heroines. I was never going to turn down an opportunity of discussing why Mi tradi is a masterpiece with someone whose gender gave her an inside track. Per-haps it was fate that a Mozart aria (albeit for a bass) was about to play a key role in this first singing lesson.

AT HOME I’d been trying to improve my tone by singing the Welsh folk tune All Through The Night with its com-fortingly narrow range and plethora of extended vowels. But try as I might the initial word in the first line (Sleep my love and peace attend thee) emerged harshly. V diagnosed the fault immediately: instead of singing Slee-p, I was singing Suh-leep. Obligingly she treated me to both versions, perfectly formed with her exact voice.

ROUTINE? Lessons start traditionally. V uses both piano and voice to accompany my warm-up as I imitate her rising sequences of notes, each sequence moving up one tone at a time to my top limit – F for those who are familiar with these things. Then I descend further than I’ve come, eventually leaving behind V’s higher soprano voice in a manner which, even now, seems vaguely impolite, as if it shouldn’t happen.

ONE OF THE delights at this stage is perceiving the nature of these phrases: some are logical and easy to assimilate yet remain fresh and unaffected by repetition. Here’s a good example from Roger Quilter’s setting of  O Mistress Mine:

“Ev’ry wise man’s son doth know-ow.”

A mere eight notes, no difficult intervals between the notes and no great range. If you’re lucky, and looking ahead, there’s every chance you’ll get it right second time round and it will stick for good.

THRO THE FAIR bothered me in other ways. One of those extended notes, accompanying the syllable “-ly” in “fondly”, not only stretches out inordinately but is comparatively high. That’s two problems in one: as spoken, “-ly” is a short i which is hard to sustain and, for singing, must be converted into a long i (ee) but not too obviously. Also, keeping this highish note going exposes the singer to wobble. Just for one note which supports half a word!

Return to Tone Deaf HOME PAGE

Tuesday 17 October 2017

OS goes overboard

How OS became Americanophile. Christmas in Philly, aged two-ish.
The wreckage in the foreground is what remains of a Cornish Rock Hen
 which OS has mangled, now, genteelly, she's washing her hands in the
water glass. Afterwards we took her into the garden and hosed her down
Younger daughter, Occasional Speeder, was born in the USA although doesn't remember much about it. As a birthday treat (one of the big ones) she's over in New York at the moment and posts the following:

Decision made to divorce parents today. If they hadn't selfishly taken me to the UK when I was four I'm pretty confident I would be living in Brooklyn, in THIS house (pic of brownstone), with THIS dog (some kind of puggish thing) with THIS view on my doorstep (you can guess). Bastards.

Just to set the minds of kind-hearted US citizens at rest this is an example of histrionic exaggeration which I've taught both daughters to practice and for which I'd score her an over-generous 6 out of 10. She's ignored opportunities for further snideities and I'll be reminding her of them when we drive to the Christmas market, in Düsseldorf, in a few weeks time.

In fact OS has solved a problem. Today as usual I rose at 06.25 am and Hereford was in total darkness. It happens at this time of year, I believe, although the vagaries of the natural world are of little interest to me. Yesterday Hereford caught the tail-end of Hurricane Ophelia with the sun turning a dusky red but you won't see me posting about either of those meteorological banalities. Humans have far more potential.

In my eighties I laugh less and today I fully intended to elaborate on this in a piece cut-and-pasted from The Anatomy of Melancholy (By R. Burton but not the famous one). OS's proceedings for divorce brought a wintry smile to my face and an even crueller intention to rain on her parade with a single word: TRUMP. Then I reminded myself I am a parent, I have both advantages and obligations.

I'll make do with "the rest is silence" even if in WS's case, he lied.

Friday 13 October 2017

Black spots

What am I worst at?

First, an important ground rule. There’ll be none of those weaselly confessions (I over-forgive my enemies. Hiding my handsomeness. Being too literary.) which turn out to be self-serving. Here “worst” means bad: contemptible, incompetent, unmannerly.

I lack social nicety. The West Riding didn’t encourage it and I’ve never bothered to rectify the omission. Far from being trivial social nicety oils the wheels, especially during first encounters. Less to do with what is said, more a tone of voice that sets the other person at ease. Instead I challenge and am facetious.

Personal hygiene. By US standards I’d be stopped at immigration. Yes I do change my underpants but reluctantly. As to my PJs you’d be shocked... And for the sake of the comity of nations I’ll not say how often I bathe. Cleanliness is such a fag, more so as I get older. Nor are there valid excuses.

Impatience prevents me from doing good manual work. What’s more I can live with visible and gross imperfections; in some cases even romanticise the defects.

Writing too much encourages self-centredness. And not in a nice way. Even when I’m not writing it occupies my frontal lobes and colours what I say and do. It encourages “pronouncements” – not a lovable tendency. Makes me sneer.

I know I’m a physical coward because simulated warfare during National Service proved that. But I’m also guilty of moral cowardice. While editing a community magazine I backed down to a bully. An older man with little education stood up to the same bully and won the day.

I drink too much.

Here’s an ambiguous one. I’m amused by things I suspect I shouldn’t be amused by. Perhaps because I’m somewhat detached. Examples are needed but I’ve run out of space.

Monday 9 October 2017

Could this be Brexit?

Yeah, yeah, pontoons and suits are things. The vacancy is in his head
Some cease to blog because they believe they're all written out. For shame. Subjects abound. How about the present intake of breath and the one that (we hope!) follows? The act of reading these words? The strange and rarely examined phenomenon of being alive? Or for that matter being dead? Momentous topics discarded in favour of mulching flower beds or chasing down bargains at Tesco.

Or we can write about nothing. Split that word and we get no thing, a biblical-sounding phrase intended to invoke a void. But there are more than things out there. Breathing in and breathing out are not things, they're events. Reading is a process as is living. Being dead? Hardly a thing.

And before you dispute the definition of thing - arguing that its very vagueness allows it to cover all experienciable and imaginable phenomena - try Googling "Thing, meaning". Never have I been so ashamed of dictionary compilers as a tribe. Most are overpowered by the difficulty and resort to puerile examples.

Were I still a versifier (I resigned the day before yesterday) I'd relish standing on an eminence and viewing nothing. Not a Rich Tea biscuit, nor a Rembrandt nor a TV remote in sight.

Not-I wandered, lonely as an un-thing
That floats - oh, somewhere - over various non-existing geographical features.

The Bard of Rydal could do better.

Mind you the view from that hill, tump or excrescence might be surprising. War might be ensuing (for war is an event) but the good news would be that nobody would be armed, for weapons are things. Nor would anyone care about the war since none of us would have smartphones on which to goggle at it.

Meanwhile I’ll continue to wrestle with the idea that nothing is something to write about. 

Sunday 8 October 2017

Tracks in treacle

Sentimentality is "exaggerated and self-indulgent tenderness, sadness, or nostalgia." At first sight you'd say there were worse failings but closer scrutiny shows it to be based on lies, often in the face of incontrovertible facts. One pernicious form is the Golden Era Myth - the belief that yesterday was always better than today, wilfully ignoring such matters as cruder health care, greater authoritarianism, implacable racism, and an uncaring state.

I try not to be sentimental but since this is my 1347th post, virtually all of them 300 words long, no doubt I've let through a few fluffy kitten photos. What I dislike is that sentimentality bypasses reason: "Yes, I know X is wrong but I get this warm glow."

Or to bring things up to date, "I like Boris (Johnson) because he makes me laugh."

Unbridled sentimentality anchors its practitioners in time and encourages repetition. An allusion to Blackpool Tower and one winces in advance at: "In my opinion Bondi Beach doesn't come close; I was always happiest holidaying in the north-west." Implying, of course, that this view is set in stone and will never change.

And yet... a friend lugs round a huge coverless, self-destructing dictionary despite owning the same edition in much better repair. "Because a friend gave it me and she is now dead," I’m told and can't argue with that. Affection must be allowed to bridge the grave. But the dictionary has now reached the autumnal phase and is daily shedding unprotected pages at both ends. Soon my friend will be disadvantaged when it comes to words beginning with a and z. Will the earlier justification still be legitimate?

Thursday 5 October 2017

Caring vehicles

Recently we spent two nights in Cardiff, capital city of Wales, 58.4 miles away. For reasons too embarrassing to explain I chose public transport. Train would have been quicker but at a total cost of £76. Much as I dislike buses the total cost (£0 since we used our pensioner bus passes) made buses a no-brainer.

For me this was a new world. This service (run by Stagecoach) acknowledges that the majority of passengers will be pensioners and the bus interiors are designed accordingly. Travellers who are mobile are jammed into familiar cramped seats. Their elders not only have more knee-room but adjacent space to accommodate their shopping trolleys; some seats face the bus’s centreline and allow the ancients to drop into position rather than wriggle in awkwardly. Several of the grab-posts are curved to make access even easier.

No one else did the journey end-to-end as we did and almost no one paid cash. At Abergavenny, about half way, the bus virtually disgorged itself  then took on more of the same. Some very ancient ancients shuffled in, travelled a couple of street-lengths, then shuffled off.

Had I been a Tory, firm in the belief that indigent oldsters should be punished for living too long, I’d have fulminated.  But the route took in Welsh valley towns once populated by coal miners, now home to the unemployed and to those on benefits. Pontypool was a particularly poignant example. These middle-distance services are as much a form of social care as mere transportation. When I presented my pass to the scanner I made two or three errors of positioning. Patiently the driver instructed then re-instructed me; used to people of my age.

On the back of the seats were USB sockets for re-charging smartphones. Which I found cheering.