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Wednesday 30 January 2019

Bear-baiting now modernised

My sciatic nerve is not my only source of pain these days. The UK's fumbling attempts to leave the EU (Brexit) are a spiritual burden which is bringing my grey hairs down with sorrow to the grave.

To compound my misery I have taken to watching the Parliament Channel on TV. It's free and it should be.

Remember your school debating society? Parliament is like that raised to the power of n, with bits of comical history thrown in. Newcomers will be astonished to see that when there's a full attendance there isn't enough space for everyone (ie, about 630 MPs) to sit down. A few dozen stand crushed together at the exits; others squat uncomfortably in the stepped aisles. Also, when there's a vote, everyone troops out of  the chamber to be counted. No push-buttons here.

The Speaker, Stephen Bercow, who is - confusingly - an MP who does not vote, utters strange commands during the voting: "Division!", "Lock the doors!", and "Unlock!"

When the MPs are speaking in the formal debates they refer to each other as The Honourable Member for Slumberland and Tittipoo (ie, their constituency). Frequently the two halves of the chamber bellow in support of speeches they favour, or go "Who-hoo." at those they don't.

When the background noise becomes unbearable the Speaker intervenes using language that sounds like a fifties radio comic.

And it is these ritualised fools who are intent on cutting my links with the countries who gave the world Beethoven, Mozart, Brahms, Proust, Goethe, Voltaire, Molière, Sartre and Flaubert to name but a few. Who are in effect insisting that the river Rhine and Paris's Ile de la Cité are more foreign than I've been accustomed to. Bah to these puffball wretches.

Tuesday 22 January 2019

Supplied by my private NHS

On the tiny planet Zog the operational part of the tube (US: subway) system is being widened. Locomotives equipped with sharp-toothed, voracious boring machines (moles) travel along existing rails increasing the tunnel radius to accommodate larger trains. A huge project?  It would be but for two reasons:

(1) The planet Zog could be accommodated in the average UK garden shed.

(2) Zog only exists to illustrate how it feels to own and depend on my right leg.

Sciatic pain expresses itself in different voices: a shrieking soprano resulting from raising bone marrow to boiling point, an interminable Heldentenor aria chewing away at soft tissue, and a rumbling bass which suggests the skeletal frame is collapsing into rubble and will blow away as dust.

But who am I to complain?

With a leg like that it's hard to sing well. Manfully I do my solitary rehearsals but my voice lacks precision. I do have a prescription though, provided by a friend. When my leg throbs like a tom-tom I turn to this:


It makes me cry but better to cry at - or for - this than the pain.

It's a four-voice part song (thus unaccompanied) here sung during Advent in Cologne's main railway station. A flashmob impromptu, albeit carefully rehearsed. In English it translates as A Rose Has Sprung Up. More elegantly: Lo, How a Rose e'er is Blooming.

More recently I'm learning to sing it as a duet with V. From a sitting position.

Wednesday 16 January 2019

Catching up with time

One picture is worth a thousand words. So what's a moving picture worth? How about a moving picture with words?

Until recently I wasn't aware how incomplete my view of Donald Trump was. His outrageous utterances are captured, live, for BBC television news. Rebuttals, if any, come later, often as summary read by the presenter. Any corrective force is inevitably delayed.

Thus the cumulative impression, here in the UK, is that, day to day,  DT gets away with murder and the US does nothing about it. Then I saw Anderson Cooper on CNN cutting out "wasted" time and offering clips of what Trump said then and now.

The Mexicans would pay for the wall. No they wouldn't, a new US-Mexico trade deal would pay for the Wall. But the money gained would go to the businesses doing the trading. Yeah but the cost of the wall is peanuts. So the US government would tax the traders? Oh no.

The US shutdown. People wouldn't be able to pay their mortgage, buy groceries, etc. Trump (a billionaire landlord) reckoned the landlords would be understanding, would allow defaulters some slack. Cut to Trump in 2016 advising on how to collect rent "...never stand in front of the door... because you get bad things coming through that door."

Cooper cocks an eyebrow:  "Does that sound as if Trump is there to give the tenants time to pay?”

What I loved was how much Trump must dislike Cooper. Cool, calm-voiced, even giving Trump credit where it was deserved, shrugging his shoulders at each contradiction, saying, “Hey but it’s just words, just words.”

I owe the USA an apology. I didn’t think the country could do irony. I was wrong.

Sunday 13 January 2019

A viceless friend

My DIY days are over and no regrets. I was never an expert and poverty was the main driving force. These days I call in experts, observe them, pay them and reflect.

And change my mind. For half a century I believed that the single most important tool in my armoury was the power drill. Especially since I was able to remember starvation days in London when I made do with a hand drill. Given I tended to bodge, it was a revelation when I discovered I could also use the power drill sideways and open up holes that were too small.

Of course "most important" is arbitrary. One wouldn't get too far without a saw or a screw-driver but the thing about power drills, as well as speed and adaptability, is their power. Try putting a hole in a brick with a hand drill.

But then I bethought myself. My most productive DIY days were in Kingston-upon-Thames where I had a large garage (Described as "a 1½ garage" by the estate agent). Room enough for a substantial bench and... a vice. As I say I was a lousy craftsman but I'd have been lousier still without that vice. And a vice complements other tools (drills, saws, planes, etc) by adding stability and thus precision. My garage here in Hereford is much smaller and I have improvised with a Workmate foldable bench which incorporates a joky vice-like feature. But it's not the same.

To take the above photo I retrieved my retired vice from spider's webs and marvelled at its battle-scars, reminding me that a vice can also act as an anvil. Poor thing. I can't ever remember it letting me down which gainsays the other, more piquant meaning of its name.

Monday 7 January 2019

Fancy yourself at fiction?

You can’t run out of blog subjects but you may risk repetition. So - today - nothing about swimming, ski-ing, life in the USA (a veritable encyclopaedia), singing lessons, journalism or corporeal decay. But what about a cry for help?

A short story idea has been buzzing round my head. A 47-year-old single woman, X, has, against her own inclinations, decided to use an online dating service. I see her physically because she existed in real-life fifty years ago. Thus she fits scenes I have in mind. Other than her appearance X bears no resemblance to the woman in my past whom I knew only glancingly.

Here's the kicker. The story ends as X leaves her London flat for the rendezvous. This may annoy some readers, as I know from past experience. What happens next? they ask. My reply: If you care enough to ask then I've done my job. Raising reader sympathy for a fictional character is a worthwhile goal in itself.

Narrative tension will depend on the conflict between who X is and what she is about to do.

Time is slightly out of step. X is considering wearing outmoded dangle earrings. Somewhat cumbersome, in heavy silver, they are the last material link with her late mother who experienced an unhappy marriage. To do this X must first have her ears pierced and is apprehensive, despite reassurances.

I want to write this story. But should I do so? As I see things it demands some pretensions on my part about the inner nature of being a woman.

In four out of my five novels women are central and this was intentional. But in almost all my forty-plus short stories men dominate the plots. I’m not sure why.

Friday 4 January 2019

Small collision, nobody hurt

The door bell rang and there was The Believer, smiling, extending his hand, thanking me for my politeness.

Truth to tell I'd never seen him this close before. Couldn't be sure it was the same chap who'd once asked VR whether she believed in Jesus. To whom she'd said, no, but if he believed in Jesus that was OK by her. A quick thinker, VR.

But what was this about my politeness? Earlier that day I recalled standing in the driveway, about to get into my car and saying "Good morning." to a passing pedestrian. If that was The Believer he’d been walking a dalmatian. Which set me thinking about religiosity and black spots as symbols of sin. A bit tough on the dog, though.

How to react now? "I wasn't aware I was being polite," I said, quite truthfully for once.

"That was how it appeared to me," he replied, grasping my hand and handing over an envelope.

The note was addressed to both of us. "For your politeness and courtesy shown always to Me!" The capital M surprised me, but not as much as the final salutation:

"Roderick and family."

Mine is a moderately unusual given name. But not odd enough to form an impromptu clan. Was this whole encounter – which incidentally invokes the name of what the French call le Grand Seigneur – based on a belief that like names should stick together? I’m not looking forward to our next meeting: the options I face are too complex.

A time to be rude?