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● Plus my novels, stories, verse, vulgar interests, apologies, and singing.
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● See Tone Deaf in New blogger.

Tuesday 31 December 2019

A classic case?

Irony can be tricky to understand:

● Use of words to express a meaning other than the literal meaning and, esp., the opposite of it.
● Incongruity between actual circumstances and the normal, appropriate or expected result.


● A marriage counsellor files for divorce
● It's ironic that computers break down so often since they're meant to save people time.

And then there's me.

A recent combined cough, common cold, feverish state, left me with a disturbed stomach. But today was singing lesson; I was there on the dot. V produced the score of Schubert's, An die Laute (To the Lute), a song I have never heard, never even heard of. After 60 minutes I sang the two verses in tune, on the beat and adding interpretation. Several big firsts. V nodded, then said: "Good on you. But what you did took it out of you. Look after yourself."

At brunch back home there are rillettes, fatty and a firm favourite. They are intended as a treat. Normally I'd gobble them in a minute but I can't face them. Wrote this as therapy. Don't tell me I'm better off 'cos that'll cause me to grind my teeth, good news only for the dentist.

Monday 30 December 2019

Down bucolic byways

These two posts, combined as one, are out of sequence. Never mind.

Could be DT or BJ.
Dirty work either
PROPELLED by the soporific, NightNurse, I dreamily joined Trump and a tiny sub-retinue making an improbable visit to a family in Connecticut. My ecstasy (explained in the lyric below) confused Trump and he left me alone. I asked the family for “poetic” additions to the lyric already forming in my mind. Wisely they pointed out the impossibility of defining “poetic” so I completed it without them.

Whence came the observation that
The English language is my mother-tongue?
Did I say so? Or those in subfusc suits?
My dear, I neither know nor give a damn.

What really matters, more than half a wink,
Is what I say and what I am are both
Of woman born. And that’s a small delight
To one who hates the oafish tendency.

It fits. For mothering is cherishing,
And tending to the growth of living things.
Not being soft about development
Of words that shape a self-renewing world.

And is “the mother-tongue” just girly talk
Likely to get up nostrils masculine?
Well I for one can bear the brunt of that.
You can’t? Then go and read Mickey Spillane

FROM MIDDAY Christmas Eve to late on Christmas Day grandson Zach honked explosively like a sea lion. By then he’d infected me and I was coughing so violently my chest wall hurt. My appetite departed; without food I took on an inner chill which rendered me over-sensitive to air flow. At night I fought minor delirium.

VR left for the small bedroom. I felt guilty next morning, and volunteered to adopt her quarantine. But this post isn’t about illness it’s about thermodynamics, sort of.

VR said the light duvet in the small bedroom (usually occupied by younger guests with better circulation than ours) wouldn’t keep enfeebled me warm enough.

In our own bed we operate a duvet apiece and that’s the law. The RAF kiboshed blankets – those cardboard winding sheets. Cellulars turned out to be all theory and no insulation. People whinge about duvets being unsuitable in summer but the same could be said about cotton sheets. Push the duvet aside, I say.

I added my duvet to the single bed and was warm all night even though I didn’t sleep. Subduing the pain was enough (obviously many OTC drugs had passed through my guzzard). Since duvets are mostly air they’re light and soft; this is what you want from a bed. A layered pair adds more air thus more insulation.

Youth’s resilience and a reduced coughing rate encouraged Zach to act as quizmaster in a home version of University Challenge with its near impossible questions on topological maths and ex-USSR “-stan” states. With help from daughter Professional Phlebotomist I set up my new wifi keyboard/mouse to work with the smart TV. To what end? Hey, I’ve got a hungry blog to feed.

Monday 23 December 2019

Darkness resisted

It’s odd how often Christmas hosts un-fun.

Christmas Angst - Part one
V’s my singing teacher. Her mother, a dementia sufferer, died two weeks ago. The family organised a service in a farmland wood last Friday. With singing, of course. It rained heavily and access to the wood was flooded. Another entry was found. They sang A Gaelic Blessing and Ombra ma fu.

Christmas Angst – Part Two
Today, Monday morning, my traditional lesson. To find V crippled with back pain. Two-handed piano accompaniment limited to ten minutes. “But I can continue with one hand,” she said spiritedly. Dark circles under her eyes; slow movement at the keyboard. Wouldn’t hear of a cancellation.

Christmas Miracle
Christmas; we might have gone light-hearted. Instead we returned to the nitty-gritty of Schubert’s monumental Abschied, first tackled long ago. I struggled with “..hőrver-schwimmen…” The umlaut o is hard to articulate musically. It’s also just short of my absolute peak F.

Nothing seemed to work. Emphasising the aspirate h (huh), no go. Substituting “hőr” with “har” (which is cheating, anyway), another no go. V kept on. Finally she said: “You’re using that dark tone.” She was right; sometimes I imagine it makes me sound like a pro. V added, “Trouble is it makes you sing flat.” Oh!

“Sing with the front of your mouth.” Easier said than done, I’ve never had success with that weird command. But V was determined. Suddenly it clicked. A clear tone much closer to a tenor voice (I’m baritone). The hőrver problem just disappeared.

Driving home I sang a dozen songs all with problem passages. And lo, like a hot knife through butter. Also recalling the smile – the smile of a good teacher - that replaced the wincing on V’s face.

Saturday 21 December 2019

Secular, I fear

Everybody gets table presents here at Castle Robinson. Wrapping them is VR's special job, signalled by the opening tenor arias of Handel's Messiah (Comfort ye my my people, followed by the more celebratory Ev'ry valley shall be exalted). Drink gets drunk and this prepares us all for the life-reinforcing trumpets and great, great drumming that kicks off Bach's Weinachtsoratorium - a moment when I, an atheist, briefly wonder whether there might be something to be said for a revealed religion. After all, look what it did for Johann Sebastian. But then the choir roars out and I am reminded that all this wonderful noise has, of course, been created by "the people who dwell in the shadow of death". Mortals, in fact.

Music is like travelling free by TGV, drinking champagne and watching an unending riverside panoply consisting of the Rhine, the Seine, the Thames and the point at which the Allegheny meets the Monongahela to form the Ohio.

Thursday 19 December 2019

The holy estate

Marriage Story is a profoundly witty, Guardian-five-stars movie about a very American couple who get divorced. It has won worldwide applause. I suspect that any couple who saw it, and had been married more than ten years, watched as we did last night, in silence and totally absorbed.

It’s quite long (2hr 16min) and it needs to be since it is intensely detailed yet pacy. The Guardian’s film critic described it as funny but it’s not boffo humour. The laughs come later; yes, you say, that was a wry bit.

Note the title, strange given it’s about divorce. But it makes sense. In splitting up both husband and wife are forced to examine what sort of marriage they had. Relentlessly. What makes this movie terrific is it’s the marriage all of us married folk have. Chances are we may have been lucky to escape divorce, a terrible experience as the movie makes clear. No marriage is end-to-end unalloyed bliss. Or, if it is, then someone is being quiet about the periods of disagreement they endured. For marriage includes delusions.

The plot is too complex to summarise here. But it’s ingeniously contrived to provide both sides with a sequence of dilemmas that cannot be resolved. There is blame and unblame but, make no mistake, you care passionately about this couple. And their eight-year-old Henry.

The wife is played by Scarlet Johansson, whom I’ve always admired. Her facial expressions alone miraculously express the ups and downs of being wife, mother and a talent. Adam Driver, new to me, is yin to Johansson’s yang. Surely, you say, this is what marriage is like behind the scenes. We love each other but are often simultaneously at odds. I know that and so do you. Be honest, as the movie is.

Tuesday 17 December 2019


In 1951, as a 16-year-old tea-boy on the Telegraph and Argus, a Bradford evening newspaper, I worked 5½ days a week, including all Saturday.

My work schedule was:

● Open the mail for the editorial department.
● Take morning orders for tea from either the reporters' or the sub-editors' rooms and distribute it (in the orderers' own mugs) appropriately.
● Visit Bradford's three courts - sometimes twice in a morning - and pick up handwritten copy from reporters.
● From midday onwards, make hourly visits to the print room to pick up copies of the latest edition of the newspaper and distribute them to about a dozen recipients in the building.
● Take afternoon orders for tea as above.

In between times I would...
● ...scour Bradford's tobacconists for "acceptable" brands of cigarettes for the sub-editors...
● ...infrequently take a bus to beg a photograph of some guy killed in a road accident or at work from his recently bereaved widow...
● ...pick up the Wool Prices, of which I wot nothing.

Every three weeks there was a nightmarish addition to this schedule in which - every half-hour during the afternoon - I would take teleprinted lists of jockeys at all the day’s horse race meetings and amend race programmes for the Late News box.

Unimaginative, surprisingly exhausting – sometimes impossible - work, you’d say. And you’d be right.

Irregularly, I ceased to be a tea-boy. After a hurried dinner at home I would bus to a Bradford suburb, watch half an amateur dramatic society play (no time for the rest), return to the late-night office, write a review. Not well; not all were published.

The key word was “write”.

It was what I’d always wanted to do.

Friday 13 December 2019

Now I've got a shocking hangover

So, the “very worst” has happened in the British general election. The proven liar has a free hand. When I described the prime minister that way someone pointed out “all politicians lie”. I wasn’t comforted.

During the campaign the PM said the NHS was “not for sale.” The NHS is a sacred cow, a huge organisation that ensures free medicine, surgery, etc, for all Brits and especially the poor and the aged. The US would love to sell its expensive drugs and services into the NHS, raising its costs and conceivably breaking its back. If that happens (the PM and the US president “get on”) I’m supposed to shrug my shoulders and say, “Gee, he lied. But then they all do.” And accept my newly limited life expectations.

Another campaign phrase was “the EU gravy train”. But where does this train drop off its gravy? I thought of Wales which has struggled to be viable ever since its coal industry closed down. Wales voted to leave the EU. Yet throughout Wales are huge completed projects financed by EU money. Roadside signs show the EU’s circle of stars. Will the British government step in? It has always tended to ignore Wales’ needs. Turkeys and Christmas you might say.

Herefordshire, where I live, is predominantly agricultural. Judging by the Vote Conservative signs in their fields farmers appear to support Brexit. Yet they were warned their huge EU subsidies (mainly engineered by politically active French farmers) could not be matched. Tory immigration policies will prevent migratory labour from picking the county’s strawberries and apples.

Hey, maybe I’ll die of malnutrition.

Am I crying wolf? Who knows? Trade negotiations now stretch out to the Crack of Doom. I won’t see the end of them. But were VR and I right to have children?

It happened yesterday - free on the NHS
Grandson Zach got banged on the head playing rugby. (Like NFL but without helmets or padding.) Mum (Occasional Speeder) took him to A&E at local hospital.

Mum reports: "It took 2 hr to throughly check head injury. Two leaflets with guidance sent home with him. Kindness, no rushing, despite packed waiting room."

Thursday 12 December 2019


Thursday, December 12 2019
UK General Election

I woke at five and found myself selfish, cowardly, full of fear. I had wanted simplicity and had found it. It was no comfort. I am old, that’s inarguable. I am entering the final shortish period of my life when I shall depend more and more on the medical profession. Those stalwarts have served me well. But I can’t see this continuing.

It’s likely a proven liar will become UK’s prime minister. He has said our health services are not for sale. But he has said many things. In the wings stands another influential figure who has said that greater sales access to our health services will be a condition in any future trade negotiations. Bargains seem unlikely.

In the dark bedroom my uncertain feet seek my slippers. Perhaps I won’t need the medical profession, or, only incidentally. Perhaps my needs will be served by those with lesser skills, helping to wipe spilled food from my grubby shirt, zip up my fly, help me with my pills. Except there may not be enough of them to perform these tasks.

My children and my grandchildren may experience difficulties but I probably won’t care about them. I may not have the capacity for sympathy. A more horrible thought: perhaps I’ll have that capacity but won’t be able to express it.

In my selfishness I wanted the world to continue as it is. A late-life enthusiasm for music had me revelling in the sources of such music. But who cares about music when they’re out of work and must visit a food bank? If someone promises jobs and full bellies - even if they fib - who gives a toss about Dowland?

The selfish are rewarded in kind. Hence the fear.

Wednesday 11 December 2019

Not exactly a culture-fest

Aachen, Part two

It would be nice to pretend we went to Aachen for quasi-spiritual or even pseudo-intellectual reasons. We did pop into the Dom (cathedral) where I took a lousy photo of the stained glass which I am not posting. We also photographed – but did not visit – the 200-year-old theatre emerging from nighttime into roseate dawn.

Alas, our motives were materialistic, if not downright crass, and are better represented by the bun-shop window display. Those on the left are Plunderkranz, or Rubbish-Garland. Their taste remains a mystery.

Because we had the car our shopping could be profligate. VR, who dislikes chocolate (all chocolate, even the expensive sort), spent the equivalent of Gambia’s GDP on kilograms of the brown stuff which will end up as table presents for the family.

I had fun buying vegetables from Jean-Pierre’s wide range. Did he have salsify? I asked. J-P fingered his translating smartphone and, yes, he did have Schwarzwurzel. Even rarer, to me, were miniature red cabbages. Also Jerusalem artichokes; not quite so rare but these were an easy-to-peel variety and have already been consumed as sublime soup. Occasional Speeder was impressed by the amount of money which changed hands.

J-P could thus afford to share my sorrow about Britain’s parochial departure from the EU. Unfortunately my interest in his wares suggested my German was better than it is. I couldn’t follow a story which summarised German attitudes towards the UK, other than the punchline: “The carrots are small; we call them Brexit carrots.”

I thanked J-P for his entertainment and he revealed he was Dutch. “The folk who speak a thousand languages,” I said, and he laughed. That’s ultimately what I was after.

Note to Sabine: I'm aware the Wagnerian reference lacks umlauts.

Sunday 8 December 2019

The ties that bind

Despite the risk of being called “gullible” we had to do another German Christmas market before the UK succumbs to a status and leader it apparently wants and, I suppose, it deserves.

This time we chose Aachen (see the view of the Dom from our apartment window).

I wanted us to wear tee-shirts carrying our views scribbled in idiomatic German but had to make do with pin badges (see inset pic).

Dinner at the Aachener Brauhaus had come to an end. My Nurnberger bratwursts were a memory as were my hot cherries with ice cream. The wooden interior of the restaurant hummed with lively “engaged” conversation, our kind of place. As we got up a German man turned towards us from a nearby table and addressed our daughter, Occasional Speeder. Said how pleasant it was to hear English spoken with “a good accent”.

I pointed to my pin-badge and he nodded with approval. I thought about what lay ahead. If I was able to risk being thought gullible perhaps I might also risk acting cornily. I said : “Wir lieben Deutschland.” Some smiled, some waved unshowily.

Outside it was cold – literally and metaphorically.

Tuesday 3 December 2019

Two ends of a spectrum

Michael Mosley, a doctor/scientist turned TV presenter, investigated the physiological aspects of pleasure (and its close relation – pain) last night. Highly entertaining, I was left wanting more. Cleverly he bracketed the programme - first contemplating a vast Swiss dam and saying, tremulously, he was hoping to share the pleasure bungee jumpers claim for jumping off it; then, finally, filming the sequel. Terrific stuff.

In previous series Mosley has used his body unsparingly and often painfully to illuminate how surgery and medicine may examine, measure and ameliorate human ailments. Last night he was at it again: entering a chilli-eating competition which some people find enjoyable (See pic; he flunked after three rounds) and having his legs depilated, observing that smooth calves are no compensation for the agonies of having all that hair ripped away.

Men and women were formed into teams to see who could better endure keeping their hands in a bucket of ice water; my lips are sealed as to the result. Vox. pop, interviews in Britain revealed that sex only comes second in a public listing of life’s greatest pleasures. A sense of family was first which, given our reputation for lack of emotion, surprised me.

The dark side was also explored. A young girl incapable of feeling pain was seen to be pitied rather than envied. And a calm yet detailed account by a farmer from one of the US southern states who recounted getting stuck in heavy machinery should have carried a health warning.

Attitudes towards pain vary. It is at its worst when – unsurprisingly - it is administered by someone who means to harm us. Also – a theory I’d arrived at independently – the anticipation of imminent pain is, in itself, a form of pain.

Tough if you didn’t see it and haven’t got Iplayer.