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Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Gems from humdrum dross

Tuesday morning breakfast at Tesco's café is a way of passing time while Julie, our cleaning lady, has the house to herself. Elements of ritual are creeping in.

I try to make the order (Two small Americanos no milk, bacon bap with butter, plate carrying rasher of bacon, half-slice of fried bread, fried egg) without the check-out person having to ask a question. Yes, this is junk food. That's the point.

We push our empty plates way and discuss ominous topics. Trump has sustained us for a whole year.

Also we face the car park for advanced sociological research. I once owned a BMW and became as arrogant as all BMW owners, now under threat in the Arrogance Stakes from the Audi Bunch. Parking carelessly on tarmac striped in yellow to indicate No Parking. This inalienable right comes with the make of car, you see.

SUV-borne mothers bring their children. The sub-five girls walk past our window solemnly, conscious of their expensive clothes. The boys, packed with excess energy, attempt to walk along a low narrow wall that guards the window. They flap their arms, grinning at being out of balance.

People use the ATM differently. With motorbike riders there's all that palaver of getting through layers of leather to reach their wallet. Laddish youths with shaven heads stand away from the machine, uncaring about their PINs, daring others to rob them. Those in wheelchairs must plan their movements and work sideways on. Some users count the notes, others stuff them away.

When it's raining old people (ie, those our age) approach the building with pinched faces. Those who've shopped leave briskly, glad to be off. Security men with badges loiter, trying to be inconspicuous.


  1. This brought a smile to my face this morning. It incorporates several of my favourite things: cafés, bacon butties, people watching, but not shopping, but your anticipated visit to the café is the reward that makes that toil tolerable. Don't worry about ritual - I have read that it is good for people of our age, although it is usually referred to as routine in that context, and I suppose there is slight difference in the two meanings. Should one be wary of routine turning into ritual?

  2. I'm always dismayed when it rains old people. Snow more likely here today, but I will press on through whatever, hoping to find Opening Bars in my mailbox.

  3. Sir Hugh: Ritual is routine institutionalised; turned into some kind of pattern which is practised as an end in itself, independent of the needs that routine fulfills. Today we went later and our ritual was infringed. The café was fuller and we were denied our window seats. Nevertheless, and to my delight a young boy walked along the aforementioned narrow low wall. But with aplomb since he was older than the others. Old enough to decide next week that wall-walking is childish.

    MikeM: You'll be telling me next that it never rains cats and dogs in upstate New York. Thank you for legitimising my decision to write and publish Opening Bars. I had a lesson yesterday and V said she read her copy through at one sitting. Which makes it an expensive sit-down. Later we made a shared discovery about dotted crotchets in the Schumann song. V, to my overweening pride, said she'd never had a more productive lesson - and she's the teacher! I said I had finished Opening Bars too early since I would have liked to have included the dotted discovery. I love scattering the jargon about.

  4. Bap. Bap?

    It is snowing old people here. One fell down but was okay.

    Confetti and champagne on doing so well for V... Lesson and book!

  5. Marly: Bap - a bread bun, similar to those that wrap hamburgers. Someday you must break off from one of your frenzied trips to foreign parts and I will take you on a highly condensed, colloquial tour of the British language, short visits to the sort of words that only rarely find their way into middle-class fiction. And here's a point: US citizens (I'm told I mustn't say Americans) who read Tone Deaf often ask me to translate UK idiom. UK readers of US fiction, on the other hand, rarely return the compliment. I for one feel I should know such words. It's one reason among several, all of them powerful, why I read Elmore Leonard who never seems to figure in US lists of "must read" authors.

    The lesson I mention above would have qualified as a epiphany (q.v.). I realised that our increasingly animated discussion had to do with the wider imperatives of music itself and was not limited just to singing. A moment which Samuel Goldwyn would have illustrated with a beam of artificially restricted light jagging out of dark clouds. Accompanied by maestoso orchestral chords.