● 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.

Friday 29 November 2019

Oh vengeful death

Rhodes, Miller, James. All three deaths were hard to take
but to learn that Miller, a great wit, had Alzheimers for some
time before dying seemed ironic in the nastiest possible way
Clive James, Jonathan Miller and Gary Rhodes, dead in one fell swoop. And I reflect on the nature of words. Fell can have a “literary” meaning - fierce or cruel; very destructive; deadly. For once I’ll allow the cliché.

Clive James had been dying for a decade. Living confirmation that doctors, faced with any patient, should routinely predict the sufferer hadn’t long to live. Confounding an expert medico quite outweighs a harsh prediction.

James was a great TV critic for The Observer who enlisted me by poking fun at the BBC’s all-purpose blabbermouth sports reporter, David Vine; someone who had ruined many a Ski Sunday. James crammed much good writing into ten years after discovering he had leukemia. Poetry, abstruse lit. crit., etc. Latterly a weekly column which borrowed from Mark Twain (“The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”).

After appearing with Alan Bennet, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore in Beyond The Fringe, a university romp that ended up on Broadway, Miller directed operas worldwide. In a TV documentary about La Boheme, he predicted no one could watch the “your tiny hand is frozen” scene without seeping into tears; rehearsed the scene and lo, was among several with a streaming face. Was allowed a TV series to explain just what atheism is; a memorable personal declaration.

Forty years ago I watched TV cooking programmes, a tolerance that has since substantially withered. VR liked Gary Rhodes, a sort of cheeky chappie who affected extreme hairstyles and was good fun. I was mildly astonished when in “adding salt” he disbursed a whole handful. Yes, I know it’s bad for you. So’s breathing if you do it underwater. Rhodes died from banging his head in a fall; aged only 59. Quarter of a life left.

Sunday 24 November 2019

Now in newer clothes

This sonnet first saw the light of day in Tone Deaf on Remembrance Day (US: Veterans' Day) in 2015. The date is irrelevant to the subject matter.

I should never have exposed it to critical comment. Like Richard III it came into this world "scarce half made up". I blushed to re-read the second quatrain which was so determinedly allusive even I, the author, found it impenetrable. Amazing, there were 12 comments which I didn't deserve. All were far too kind.

I was commenting on Marly Youmans' blog, The Palace at 2am, and, on impulse, I chucked in this sonnet, albeit without that deadly second quatrain. Marly too was kind. I vowed to re-write the quatrain and to polish up the remainder. This is the result. If you find it bad I can only say it was once much worse. And that Marly is not to blame.

Sonnet – Ecstasy but not quite
“Keep a light hopeful heart.
But expect the worst.”

Joyce Carol Oates

When was the best time? I am asked,
Given my face's arid lumps and lines
Suggest that confidence has long since past
And dropped this cowpat - dry dull dreck - behind.

What can I say? My best is yet to come?
The sentiment of any greeting card.
A child? That so-called ripe and blessed plum
The middle-classes hold in high regard.

Not yet, the realist says, nor is it due,
There is no best,there's only similar.
It’s where you’re standing in the righteous queue,
Prate prophets reading from apocrypha.

For me it comes and goes as clarity,
A newish line that fits exquisitely.

Tuesday 19 November 2019

Dull should be gold

Let’s suppose you’re retired and elderly, perhaps even old. That your interests are not limited to one activity  but are multitudinous. That you blog. That when you face an empty screen filling it isn’t a burden.

Days pass in 24-hour cycles. Of which 8 hr are spent in bed. A further 2½ hr are devoted to meals and associated tasks like washing up (more if you’re the cook). Passive quasi-intellectual tasks (reading the newspaper and instructive books; scanning a PC, TV or smart-phone specifically for news and/or information) absorb 2 hr. Shopping, averaged over the week, 1 hr. Inescapable drudgery (Getting up, dressing, taking pills, ablutions and the loo, house cleaning, tidying the garden, dealing with refuse, laundry matters) 1½ hr. DIY, again averaged over a longer period, 1 hr. Dog walking or amusing the cat, 1 hr.

But let’s not haggle over minutiae. Give or take, most of us are occupied for 17 hr out of 24.

Which leaves an astonishing 7 hr for what is vaguely termed leisure. The stuff we choose to do.

Now here’s an oddity. Many appear to think the best blogposts are based on leisure pursuits. No reason why not, of course, except this policy dismisses the routine parts of our life. But must routine be dull? Is it healthy to accept boredom?

We clean our teeth and are reminded of our bank balance. Why?

Arthritic fingers find conventional taps hard to turn. There are alternatives.

Daringly, we choose a striped carpet. It works. Might stripes work elsewhere?

Can we afford to pay a gardener? Do the arithmetic.

What would happen if we entered by the side door for a day?

Could we eat all our meals with a spoon?

What does music sound like in the dark?

Dull? Only if you insist.

Friday 15 November 2019


I haven’t had a real hangover in years. I mean the real thing: upchucking imminent, acid gurgling, head restricted by a childsize battle helmet. And not because I drink less; more, if anything, but divided into smaller amounts.

Thus I read The Guardian’s Best Cures – by Pub Landlords quite smugly. Some prescriptions involved food (buttered crumpets, fried haggis, honey/banana/ten leaves of spinach), some were liquid (sparkling shiraz, Campari and espresso).

When I drank for a living (ie, as a journalist) only one thing worked: as much water as possible before bed. However there are two problems: (a) being mentally competent enough to remember and submit to this “pre-cure”, (b) overcoming the human’s seemingly finite capacity for water; after the third glassful the throat contracts and the water takes on the nature of a solid; it refuses to go down. Keep on swallowing, man.

Inevitably a memory arises. An overnight press visit to Stuttgart, fuelled by a terrible red wine that “didn’t travel well” – that is, from the bottle to the glass. Foolishly I challenged one of the party to an early-morning swim in the hotel pool. Even more foolishly, I flopped into bed without the water treatment.

All the symptoms were there the next morning. As I made sure my legs entered the appropriate orifices of my cozzie I told myself I would profit from the exercise. I didn’t. Poolside my head merely throbbed. Immersed it felt like a depth charge, assuming depth charges have feelings.

My so-called competitor was worse. Too crocked to even imagine swimming. Some people have all the luck.

One further suggestion from The Guardian: homemade chicken stock, miso paste, shitake mushrooms, crispy seaweed, kombu kelp, spring onions, shredded rotisserie chicken, egg noodle, a soft boiled egg. Not forgetting a helping of Dutch courage.

Sunday 10 November 2019


Two photos of grandson Zach: Trying on a fireman's helmet at Newent's world-famous onion fair; about to score a try at a rugby game last weekend. Almost a decade has elapsed between the two.

Ten years ago I was Zach's grandpa (Big Grandpa), taking him to the bakery in St-Jean-de-la-Blacquerie and encouraging him to say Bonjour. Now I am wallpaper to his world as computers and playing sport - swimming, soccer, cricket, ski-ing and rugby (where he plays scrum-half) - have absorbed him.

This is as it should be. At Zach's present age I had absolutely no interest in adults other than they were random, inexplicable and a source of fairly mild punishment. I doubt I distinguished between my adult relations and, say, giraffes. Let them be. And to be frank, there is no attraction in my attempting to hang on to the periphery of Zach's newer being. Instead I look forward - possibly! - to the sort of relationship I have with my two other grandchildren, both much older than Zach. Ties based on spirited conversation. That's if I'm spared, as my Grannie (another old person) used to say.

Zach is doing me great service. One of the unpublicised aspects of getting old is a growing risk of becoming a bore. On the whole young people just aren't interested in those who are forever looking backwards. Nor should they be. The life ahead is infinity. Even worse, I might become sentimental, although that possibility is more likely to make me vomit than Zach.

Time passes as quicksilver. One may entrap memory and dwell on it privately. But if you’re tempted to recycle it for others,  it may profit from a modern context. Moaning just doesn’t cut it. There’s a Latin tag… but I’m damned if I’ll use it.

Friday 8 November 2019

Make a mighty ocean and a bounteous land

Courtesy: Hereford Times
A burst water-main on the Hoarwithy Road had me questioning the way I'd previously run my life.

Suddenly I had to force three different types of pill down my reluctant throat. I shuffled downstairs and returned with a bottle of fizzy water from the fridge. Should I swallow the pills individually, as normal, or en masse? Foolishly I decided on the latter. As I raised the bottle to my lips the pills seemed to be swelling. Fizz added, I sensed the pills now as big as golf balls in my mouth. Got to get them down! They passed under my epiglottis as the combined volume of a medium-sized mammal, say a Canadian beaver. At least there would be no wood down below to gnaw on.

Using the tooth-brush I asked: where to spit? The large bowl of the loo seemed obvious. And yet the water in the loo's cistern would need husbanding. Which meant the spit would... hang around. Uh.

We have three loos and one had already been flushed before we knew its water would not be immediately replaced. This raised delicate questions. Loos are in receipt of two different forms of waste product. This would need planning. I'll go no further.

One thing I wasn't short of was information. Welsh Water is the only mutually owned water company in Britain, thus it concentrates on customers not share-holders. I signed on with WW's website and got breathless emails every hour describing progress on the Hoarwithy Road (“challenging work… a nearby high-voltage cable… team working hard”).

WW predicted the repair would be finished within the day. My supply, at lower pressure, resumed at 13.30 though emails remained cautious. Always better to go for a worst-case prediction and give everyone an unexpected treat.

Loo used with complete abandon this morning.

Sunday 3 November 2019

Words quick as thoughts

Aldous Huxley observed that the only new vice the twentieth century has delivered is an enthusiasm for speed.

My new PC, equipped with Windows 10, boots up in 45 seconds (sometimes in only 10 seconds.)  Boots down in 3 secs. I must admit there's a sensual pleasure to this (not least because the PC's predecessor took several minutes to clear its throat.) Sensual? Indeed, a feeling of release, a sensation akin to... well, perhaps we should leave it at that.

I know no one who isn't irritated when a computer works slowly. Always acknowledging that a computer’s slowness is relative; nothing in common with queueing at the Post Office for a single first-class stamp.

The reasons are obvious. Our world has shrunk to the dimensions of a monitor screen, we are briefly transfixed, we have nowhere to go. And for those of us of a technical bent there's the consideration that behind that screen electrons are moving at the speed of light. Yet Solitaire refuses to appear.

I feed on computer speed and I am clearly not alone. Programmers recognise we get caught up in our PC’s vitesse and are only too ready to stab keys we may later (ie, two microseconds later) regret. “Are you sure you want to delete this file?” the prescient programmer asks. We blush at our impulsiveness.

Word-processing speed is essential to journalists. One must cut words quickly to match available space, correct errors to avoid embarrassment. An error departs so quickly we hardly remember we made it. We become smug, imagining we are better instinctive writers than we thought. An old-fashioned pencil would prove the opposite.

Never mind. My new computer is again my slave and not my tormenter. I no longer wait on it hand and foot. Mind and mouse are in step.