● 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.
● See Tone Deaf in New blogger.

Saturday 29 June 2019

The spine softens

With old age comes timidity.

On December 27 1965, suffering from a heavy cold, I crossed the tarmac at Prestwick (then a primitive airport on the southern bank of the Clyde in Scotland) to embark on a 16-hour transatlantic flight west. Why 16 hours? The plane was propellor-driven and we dog-legged via Reykjavik. I had half a promise of employment. Fifty-four years later my foolhardiness appals me.

Ten years earlier to that I stood on the parapet of a humpbacked bridge in the Lake District, 5 m above a narrow gap in the rocks through which a turbulent river flowed. I jumped. I didn't need to do that.

Age is a stern critic of youth. Beyond seventy "do" becomes "don't'". Tonight I'll be watching highlights of qualifying for the Austrian F1 grand prix while drinking no more than two Bloody Marys. It's the morning headaches, you see.

There's a telephone call I've needed to make for a week now. Purely social. But who can foretell what form the talk will take? I cower in a state of wilful delay.

I know my muscles will ossify, my hearing diminish, my judgment shrink, that I'll be prone to disease and intolerance. But no one told me I'd become a mouse (the mammal, not the IT accessory). A couple in their fifties conceded their seats at the bus station; I needed a wisecrack that would allow me to continue standing with dignity. In the end I couldn't risk it; defeated, I sat down.

God knows I was never gung-ho but I was more than this length of chewed string. So this is why oldsters retire to their non-menacing gardens. Venting their anger on aphids, but quietly. Pah!

Tuesday 25 June 2019

Let's hear it for trite

Journalism often demands "think pieces" - articles churned out quickly, from a sitting position, minimum research. Preferably none. Tone Deaf readers will notice I haven't discarded this practice since retirement.

Ten minutes ago I was all set for a think piece contrasting clichés with platitudes.  Fatally I broke the think-piece research rule and decided I should cover my rear by checking the exact meaning of platitude. Just as well. The first half I expected:

trite remark, stating the self-obvious

But the second half was new to me:

typically made for the sake of something to say

Obviously I did wonder whether my original idea was itself a platitude. Perish the thought. Ideas are not at all like No. 10 buses. They're rare and they stop for no man.

Platitudes can fill in embarrassing silences. Not always successfully:

Waiting room, STD clinic
X says to Y: Do you come here often?

Touring Bucks Palace
DT: Your Whotsit, did you know Trump Tower has a sign on the front saying Trump Tower? Big letters. Golden. On the front.
Queen: Not on the back, then?
DT: On the front. Trump Tower. Definitely.

The Pope’s antechamber
John Bolton: I got photos, here in my billfold. The Gulf War. Six Days War. Grenada. Korea even, but in black and white
The ghost of Nelson Mandela: Not now, John. Not now.

Anywhere in Britain, late June
Anyone speaking to anyone else: It’s raining.

I know, I know, these aren’t traditional platitudes. But I’ve been hard on platitudes during my contumacious life and they deserve some rehabilitation. I’m glad to see I’m not alone in this. Judging by his responses to Laura Kuenssberg’s interview on the BBC it is clear soon-to-be-enthroned Boris Johnson is doing his best for this form of literary orphan.

Saturday 22 June 2019

Is modesty good for you?

Been re-reading my earlier posts - see how pathetic my life has become.

Down the years more than one commenter has judged me guilty of "self-deprecation", always that phrase. In the nicest possible way, y'unnerstand.

Guilty, milud! What's more, the trope (First time I've used trope; I could have got it wrong.) was deliberate, the reason obvious. Adopting a self-deprecatory tone frees me from the opposite charge of self-approval. Otherwise smug, for smug is hard to sell.

Even so, I've got to pick my self-deprecatory spots. No use typing myself as ugly. For one thing I've posted portraits which prove it, for another at age eighty-three what else might one expect?

Another point. Tone Deaf's readership is much better educated than its author. Thus if I own up to being a lousy writer and frame the admission in a sentence of lapidary beauty I'll be seen immediately as a quack. And I'll deserve it.

Things can get really complicated. Seen from inside I may conclude I'm mean-spirited. Kind-hearted readers (and there aren't many of the other sort) may say this is irrelevant and proves my honesty. Self-deprecatory honesty, of course, but nevertheless a good thing.

How about this: "Circumstances force me to say I've read Joyce's Ulysses. But I deplore the implicit pat on the back." Self-deprecation is more difficult to recognise there, don't you agree?

You don't? Keep an eye on my next fifty posts, let’s see who wins.

I said I was pathetic. Should I add I’m desperate?

Tuesday 18 June 2019

Unblocked... perhaps

I swore I'd never post about writer's block. Yet writers are snotty about themselves, believing that everything they do - or don't do - is fascinating. And I have pretensions as you all know.

But, heck, it's been a long time. I started my fifth novel, Rictangular Lenses, in early September 2016. Reached 25,000 words, uncertain steps became a shuffle, a crawl, a mouldering body picked to its skeleton on a desert sand dune. At 33,000 words progress stopped. A year went past.

I could have junked RL but 33,000 words represent a third of the way there. My baby, even though it was on a switched-off ventilator. Suffering a bad attack of mixed metaphors

Here's the situation: In the remaining 66,000 words Events A, B, C, D will happen. I see them, if vaguely. It's the paths that link those events that worry me. They must be original, unexpected and lively - the products of my imagination. But my imagination had taken an unfashionable walk and was now in an ashram, trying to get a mobile signal.

Last week my imagination - wearing flip-flops and a tee-shirt with a Camus quote - returned to Herefordshire. The word count's now 40,000. Here are some new words:

In the sparsely populated business class section of the London flight she turned down several offers of splits of champagne. Tried to sleep but couldn’t. At Heathrow customs, wearied and stiff, she was directed to a side counter there to open her suitcase and expose a pile of unlaundered lingerie. With her mind closed down in self-protection she passed through the Arrivals gate and only sheer luck enabled her to spot Gerald Lovelace, now her stepfather....

But the block could return. Novels are a fool’s business.

Friday 14 June 2019

One of my yesterdays

Why did I, aged 30, impoverished, married and father to a young daughter, plan exhaustively to leave the most absorbing city in the world - the city where I best fitted in - to find work in the USA? Does part of the answer lie in Bull Durham, a movie set against minor-league US baseball and released years after I returned from the USA?


But am I that mad keen on sport? Journalism was more important, it's all I've ever wanted to do for a living. Books are more important, from classics to trash and back again. Language - French and German as well as English - is more important. The urge to write fiction. The more recent urge to sing.

As I switched on Bull Durham VR said shrewdly, "It stars Susan Sarandon." True, and she looks gorgeous. Then VR admitted Kevin Costner, the co-star, is also a tiny bit sexy.  But Bull Durham is more than its stars.

For me the story is well told and satisfying but probably impenetrable in the UK. Most important it's minor-league, close to my suburban life in Pennsylvania for six years. The characters are generic and I've known their likenesses in the companies that employed me, in the softball team I used to watch. That straining to be competitive which is absent in the UK. That wish to be self-reliant. That directness. That slightly frenzied attitude towards leisure activities.

Durham is a real town in North Carolina. The Bulls’ stadium is slightly run-down and thus believable. I recognised several truths. Once we were settled in our Pittsburgh apartment, the USA ceased to be a world theory and became the neighbours and the parking problems. Watching Bull Durham I was briefly back in that other home.

Cheap time travel

Sunday 9 June 2019

Untouched by Brexit

Yesterday, unexpectedly, I entered an outpost of paradise. I should have used my phone-camera but I was too absorbed with what I saw. I must now make do with words.

Ashleworth is a village for the well-off, beyond Gloucester. The streets curve tightly and beguilingly through the greenery and one is called Nup End. To the north are the distant Malvern Hills. Yesterday was a rich summer's day but one suspects it's always summer in Ashleworth. That the residents have paid for summer to happen.

Within spitting distance of the centre (though no one here was so crass as to spit) was a spacious and well-appointed cricket ground: the boundary marked out neatly with Woodpecker CC flags, the practice "nets" a permanent fixture, the electronic scoreboard remotely operated, the pavilion extended with a full-length skittle alley.

All the players were correctly togged in white, not a pair of jeans to be seen. Bat met ball with that unique heavy thwack and play progressed. Daughter Occasional Speeder, who chauffeured us here, brought us beer and cider from the bar. Son-in-law, Darren, a member of the Woodpeckers, wore his pads ready to play, but his heroics were not called upon; his team were cruising.

Cricket is more ritual than sport. Best defined by a friend of mine: "Not only is a tie the most likely outcome, it's the most desirable." Impossible to explain to anyone from the USA. As a contest at Ashleworth it was unnecessary, as a mobile element set in the tranquil countryside it was essential.

A sharp shower intervened but its brevity suggested it had been scripted. Proof that this was happening in England. I wondered if the spectators included a country parson but decided he would have been too stagy.

Paradises must always be rural.

Monday 3 June 2019

Just another day at the office

Recent events had disrupted my singing lessons. I felt out of sorts, out of tune, if you like. I rang V's doorbell urgently.

"Problems?" asked V. There usually are, even when it's only been a week.

"You said I wasn't singing Es Ist Ein Ros... high enough. But it starts with that weak e; I lack confidence, don't feel I'm going to make it. Should I elide "es ist"?"

"No. Emphasise the "s" more."

Always these weird tricks. Even weirder, they work. "What's next?" asked V.

"In Santa Lucia there's a six-note jump between "..prospero è il vento." and "Venite al l'agile..." Another weak e in "Venite". My tone changes."

I demonstrate. V says, "You're singing the e as uh. Let your lower jaw swing open more and add some a to the e." Adding a-sound to an e-sound is hard but I sort of get there.

"And...?" says V.

I fidget."Look, you're terrific at choosing new stuff. Surprising me, taking me up another level. It's just that..." I rootle through my bulging bag of scores as V looks on bemused. “Just give me a hint,” she says.

“It’s my favourite aria...” More rootling. “...in Messiah.”

“Which is?”

Finally I find the damned thing. “He Was Despised.”

The piano accompaniment (an orchestra in real life) is difficult but the vocal line is comparatively easy. Soon I’m singing in the shade of that familiar soaring soprano voice and I’m thinking... what am I thinking?

“It may not be progressive enough,” I babble. “Perhaps something harder. But...”

V ponders. “It’s for an alto, of course. But it’s straightaway obvious you like it. That could be interesting.”

Little of the lesson left but we sing it again.

I’m no longer out of sorts.

DESPISED, for an alto but lowish

Saturday 1 June 2019

Opening the fridge door

When there’s a crisis in the UK the BBC sends out its doleful news-reader, Huw Edwards, in his suit, to add gravitas.

Gravitas (“solemnity of  manner”) is something Huw has lots of.

Huw is older now. Outside 10 Downing Street recently he was lit by BBC lights and, unfortunately for him, adjacent lights illuminating a reporter from another TV channel. This gave him a greenish pallor down one side, like a haddock left too long in the fridge. I think he uses Brylcreem.

I’ve posted a lot about Huw because he depresses me. But my eloquence is outshone by The Crow, a regular US commenter to Tone Deaf and its predecessor, Works Well, now quieter because of Trumpism. Here’s an apercu dating back to October 5, 20ll:

Huw... looks like Sam the Eagle from the Muppet Show - heavy browed scowl insinuating overweening sense of self-importance, which probably means he actually has low self-esteem, but puts on a good face.

Excellent! But this one, six days later, is not only funny but brilliantly observed:

His voice is like pablum, bland yet vaguely comforting. His body language is confusing, especially when he looks like he's having to hold the desk in place, leaning on it with one forearm while keeping it steady with the other outstretched arm, palm down. He did that for so many of the (YouTube) clips that I thought he must have a boil in his armpit and couldn’t keep his arm close to his torso.

If I have grossly insulted a beloved British icon... I apologize (for causing) you or your fellow citizens any anguish. I wouldn’t hurt any of you for all the pablum in the world.

No anguish whatsoever! Full marks for pablum!

Come back Crow, Tone Deaf needs you.