● 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.
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Wednesday 31 October 2018

Succès d'estime?

Have you or I been a success in life?

What an opportunity to fib our hearts out! For who dares say no? Much easier to say: "I've (you've) been a huge success but the criteria are so fuzzy and so personal I can't be bothered to define them."

I suppose this question can only be addressed to someone the French would call "of a certain age" - sixtyish and beyond. But what about those vague criteria? None of that snuggling down under the literary duvet of: "I'm a success because I feel metaphorically warm, I love the human race, I have no self-admitted enemies and people don't shudder as I pass them in the supermarket."

There are rocks ahead. Success can be measured in age itself, conveniently ignoring whether those accumulated years were happy ones. Wealth is another criterion but you won't get many Brits making a meaningful statement here; North Americans are, in comparison, more refreshingly honest. Size of family gets the nod, as if sperm strength or fecundity somehow denoted superiority. But it is when we assess intellectual achievements that we sail very close to the Winds of Mendacity.

I think for success to be real it must be observable, and approved of, by others. Better too if it didn't depend on behaviour for that may have another, darker side. I have been told (though not in so many words) that my greatest success was in marrying VR. But would that be my success? Shouldn't she have a say?

I'm proud of two things which I regard as successes. I type at the same speed my mind works. And in choosing to take up singing at eighty (and then persisting for three years) I proved I was still open to sudden change.

Go on, I double dare you. But I'd advise you to take note of the caveats.

Tuesday 23 October 2018

Dark dream

Two days ago I woke from a nightmare: a daughter I was unaware of  (quite unlike Professional Bleeder or Occasional Speeder, my known daughters) wanted to marry a male offspring of Donald Trump. The pair had already reached "an understanding".

Try not to be obvious. Reflect on this as a parent. Let's assume you are not a fundamental Christian, a cast-iron, gun-toting Republican, a fan of cage-fighting and/or presently short of money. Let's assume, too, you have not spoilt your daughter but have accorded her a reasonable degree of moral freedom. That you have told her that, while there is no rush, you look forward to the day when she is able and willing to fly the coop.

Dissuasion? If her intended had been a heroin addict you would probably have intervened. But just which arguments would you mobilise in this instance? Assuming, of course, you are able to suppress haunting visions of future "all family" gatherings.

Parenthetically, the dream horrified me. Especially when I tried to sneak out of  his campaign visit to a manufacturing plant and found myself stonily observed by my daughter's possible father-in-law, that rosebud mouth pursed in disapproval. But my sleeping imagination is a mere shadow of that when I'm awake. I try to think on other things.

But I'm interested in your reaction. Play the ultimate libertarian and book yourself a dinner jacket? Draft some minatory sentences which carefully avoid social or intellectual snobbery? Take a one-way holiday in the Democratic Republic of the Congo? Or drink your way through the state liquor store (Pennsylvania residents only).

Briefly she's your daughter now.

Sunday 21 October 2018

Late-life affliction

2018: A bumper year
Surely one benefit of old age is knowing all the irritations the flesh is heir to (Quote: Hamlet). So how come I previously managed to avoid wasps?

First they manifested themselves as corpses on the windowsills, easily swept up. Then as lethargic groups, flying without conviction and easy to zap. Then as clusters of corpses jammed into the glass domes of light fitments above the bath. I should explain here that the lighting system in the bathroom is designed to help me read for long stretches while soaking; the dead wasps were blocking the light and perverting the system.

The bathroom's overhead lights can be accessed from the loft. So I extended the loft ladder, switched on the loft light and ascended to initiate a clean-up. But I was not alone. A dozen live wasps were drawn to this new source of light, circling tiredly and intent on bulb worship. They didn't seem terribly interested in me as I tweezered away the cadavers of their blood relations, but every so often one would fly into and out of my coiffure. Unnerving.

The clean-up concluded, I stood on the top rung of the ladder and watched the bulb worshippers. An easy target. I zapped them with an aerosol acquired in France, toxic beyond belief, and added them to the body count.

But I have no illusions. There are more of them up there and the general problem has been mentioned on local TV. Just recently I have been burdened with several heavy bills; in leisure moments I envisage a future bank statement with an entry attributable to insect infestation. What the sum will be I do not know, only that it will be large.

Do I, an octogenarian, deserve this new plague? I mean I'm liberal arts.

Sunday 14 October 2018


Proposition: Kissing is an under-used resource in 20th/21st century fiction.

Does this matter? Given the space devoted to lamentable and literary accounts of bonking I think it does.

Consider this. A 25-year-old man invites a 36-year-old woman to dinner at a restaurant. Six months before, the woman's husband abruptly left her and the trauma endures. She accepts the dinner invitation reluctantly and now wishes she hadn't. About to sit at the table she drops her handbag out of which roll typical handbag contents plus prescription drugs which might be tranquillisers. A minute later, reaching to accept the menu, she almost knocks over a glass of water. Her eyes widen in mild terror. The man, whose expression seems to mirror hers, stands up, leans forward and gently kisses her forehead. Comfortingly.

It's that adverb I'm concerned with.

The raw material of novels includes adapted personal experience, a tiny bit of pure invention plus stuff we've simply observed. Often from other novels. Yes we plagiarise! Are you surprised?

Were I to develop the above scenario I'd have to invent it. Offhand there's no one I could plagiarise it from. Kisses are rarely mentioned. And then only as hasty preludes to the snapping of bra straps and the jamming of trouser zips. As to a "comforting" kiss I'd be entirely on my own.

Why are kisses given short shrift? Probably through lack of reflection. They are spectacular events, rich in sensation, eloquently symbolic, pregnant with portent. Truth to tell I fancy constructing a comforting kiss in words because there are those who would call it a contradiction. I'd like to prove them wrong. But I’d like a few examples which show me what to avoid.

Dorothy Parker: Lips that taste of tears, they say, are the best for kissing.

Friday 12 October 2018

The tyrant's heel unmasked

In retirement we repeat ourselves: lurching out of bed, doing the necessary in the tiled room, dressing (Oh, for a one-piece garment with zip!), devising reasons for not gardening, browning the toast just-so for brunch... Our working days no doubt involved repetition but there were more distractions then. Beyond 65 (60 in my case) the novelty graph tends to flatline.
Repetition should not describe life. Life should have the potential for change. Change is best exemplified when we learn something new but “new” doesn’t always mean “happy”.
I lay on the couch faintly uncomfortable. Why? Because my feet seemed remote. Why? Because I was wearing shoes and didn’t want to risk mucking up the couch. Gradually it dawned.
When I stretch out on the couch my feet are supported on the floor by the heels of my shoes. The heels have comparatively sharp corners. A year ago we replaced the 20-year-old living room carpet because the backing was showing through the pile. But just in one place. You’ve guessed it! Exactly where my heels grind the pile.
What appalled me was the time it took to make the connection. As my heels rested on the new carpet they transmitted a sense of unease but left the reason vague. After several months I saw – in my mind’s eye – those heels doing their mindless destruction. Time to consider slippers indoors.
Some of us do conundrums for fun. VR used to do the Guardian cryptic crosswords but I was hopeless. Yet I can isolate a writer’s intentions in badly composed prose and make corrections.
Finally recognising the way heels threaten carpets made me feel stupid. More ominously that I’m being overtaken by age, a reminder I don’t need. How long would it have taken Isaac Newton...?

Tuesday 9 October 2018

I really liked telle eloquence

Letter to Michelin tyre company, France, April 1993

Je suis francophil, j’ai acheté, il y un an, une maison à  Loire Atlantique et je suis en train d’encourager ma famille d’accepter mon enthousiasme pour les traditions francaises.

Avant Paques, j’étais fièr d’amener, pour the premier fois, ma petite fille, Ysabelle, en France. Pendant le trajet de Cherbourg à Drefféac, elle regardait les affiches à coté de la route et était ravi par l’image de votre M. Bibendum. “Qui est-il?” demandait-elle, on repondait et, enfin, elle commencait dire: “Regardez, M. Bibendum.”

Ysabelle a trois ans: votre société doit attendre longtemps pour le moment dont elle devient consommateur de vos produits. Puis-je suggérer que si vous voulez encourager l’enthousiasme de cette cliente naissante, vous l’envoyez une grande image de son héro, M. Bibendum. Ysabelle habite à...

Veuillez, messieurs, acceptez mes sentiments tres distingués.


Roderick Robinson

Michelin’s reply:

Nous vous remercions de votre lettre, exprimée avec une telle eloquence en francais, qui est rècemment parvenue au service Relations Extérieures.

Comme suite à votre demande nous avons le plaisir de vous informer que nous venons d’envoyer à votre petite fille une sélection d’étiquettes à l’image de M. Bibendum, que, nous, espérons lui plaira.

Dans l’espoir que nous avons donné entière satisfaction nous vous prions d’agréer, Monsieur, l’expression de nos sentiments les plus distingués.

Katie Nicholls
Relations Extérieures.

Monday 1 October 2018

A real pro

Tone Deaf strives for originality. Original subjects are hard to come by but the old war-horses (singing, writing, life in the USA, wine, sexual desperation in youth, speaking French, faking it in journalism, etc) can be given a new set of clothes by polishing up the style or the approach. Thus, not just singing but rehearsing while travelling on buses, not just writing but pretending I'm Shakespeare.

Tell the truth I've never tried either of these two possibilities so I'm already in profit today. Whoopee! Could be I'm gee-ed up by the prospect of a singing lesson in 2½ hours’ time.

My wife, VR, likes to be original too but doesn’t have a blog. Which means her innovations arrive with a bang.

Coupla days ago we're in Tesco and VR's rootling through the bargain shelf. I'm mildly outraged when she comes away with two tiny "tails" of fillet beef. The cost of these fragments is about £7 and I can't see that as money well spent. But then I can't see as far ahead as VR.

There's an event imminent; now look at those fillet "tails". Individual Beef Wellingtons with our initials emblazoned! That's original!

Which causes me to reflect. Some years ago I sat down to a plateful of spag. bol., a staple when there's just the two of us. But this one's different, more piquant. Seems VR decided - off the cuff - to chuck in a few chilli flakes. Now I wouldn't want spag. bol. any other way.

Ice cream is a dull dessert but not when it's scattered with raisins marinaded in dark rum. Much more grown-up and another simple VR modification. Grandson Ian christens it Rumraisin.

Any fule can tweak words. Tweaking food needs expertise and the effects are more beneficial.