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● 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.

Tuesday 31 March 2020

Fear of nothingness

A person I know and admire asks "What shall I say?" faced with space to fill and only one real topic dominating the ether. I sympathise. As an ex-magazine editor that question lay at the heart of my job. More than once I idly wondered (I was good at that) what would happen if one month I put out a mag with twenty-five blank pages among the ads. The answer was depressingly obvious. On three occasions during 44-plus years, because of market forces, I was made redundant. The blank pages would have led to a fourth redundancy (and not because of market forces).

Actually I exaggerate (I was good at that, too). Subjects often cropped up, it merely remained to research them and write them. But there was one regular exception. As editor, I had an editor's page where I was free to say more or less what I wanted. And it was on that page I sought to create the magazine's "character" - a numinous project if ever there was one. Yet it worked. Within a tiny, nigglingly defined industrial circle I was sort of famous. What you read in Tone Deaf (and before that in Works Well) is me trying to get used to not being famous.

And there were times when the prospect of a blank space on the editor's page loomed horribly. I couldn't, of course, make do with 250 words on Wines I Have Liked or many more words on Women Who Have Turned Me Down, there were limitations. The cupboard was bare, I had to grit my teeth and – damnit! - think. No one ever said writing was easy.

To that friend I mention above I would say: when there’s nothing in the cupboard go ahead and invent.

As I’ve done here.

Saturday 28 March 2020


Self-isolation becomes a mosaic of experience and information. Here’s yesterday:

Up at 06.25, draw downstairs blinds, check Tesco website for online delivery slot. THE WHOLE OF MONDAY (March 30) IS AVAILABLE

The Prime Minister, the Health Secretary and Prince Charles have all tested positive.

I draft a To Whom It May Concern note authorising J, our cleaning lady, to shop on our behalf.

Get an email from daughter Professional Bleeder saying Ian (son/grandson) is fretting about the delivery of curtains. I suggest he’s getting old before his time. He’s 31.

Put on my driving gloves for short walk to Tesco’s filling station to pick up Guardian. One in, one out system in operation. Everyone smiling and efficient.

Decide to email Tesco store manager complimenting him on his staff’s friendliness. Can’t find his email address.

VR bakes fruitcake.

Check internet to see what foolish ideas DT is imposing on the US population in order to get re-elected.

Brunch. Sandwich based on chicken breast leftovers. Read Guardian. Two strong mugs of coffee to go with huge slice of new cake.

Doze involuntarily.

Take very unexpected phone call from friend dating back to newspaper days in the fifties.

Call interrupted by delivery of six different bottles of Italian white wine, all new to me.

Follow Gareth Malone’s warm-up instructions for his online choir project. Much lengthier session than V and I can afford for my one-hour lessons. Voice in fine fettle. I sing snatches of song round the house. Go the whole hog in the kitchen with Du bist die Ruh.

Lie on bed and consider what’s left of my life. VR joins me.

Emails from daughters flow in. Much more happens but this my 300-word limit.

Friday 27 March 2020


Viral incidentals

LA PESTE Yes, I have read the relevant diary passages of the scurrilous but witty Mr Pepys but there’s no doubt about the book we should all be reading. I was impressed when I first read Camus’s The Plague, notably the cool way the story was told. More recently I read it in French (the language is quite simple) and found that the coolth had multiplied. Clearly masterpieces only have to hang around a bit and events confirm their status.

What do I mean by “cool”? The fictional story is told through the eyes of the local doctor, Rieux; his commitment to his task is complete, but his attitude is dispassionate. As we would hope of people in charge; Trump showing how not to do it. There is nothing to be gained by getting excited and uttering overworked words like “menace”.

Rieux and the others do what they do because the need is obvious; discussion is unnecessary. The solutions are mainly traditional, tried and true; good results at first seem distant but it’s important to be patient. Without articulating that need.

Best of all, courage is inferred, never stated. People volunteer for difficult work and some die. But no one dwells on this, calling it a tragedy; it was to be expected. Back to work.

GARETH MALONE He’s famous for getting people together and causing them to cohere as a choir. Most recently – and terribly – with hard-case residents in prison. He’s expert, conscientious and fun. Now he’s got an online project going whereby thousands of people, looking at the computer screens, will somehow become a sort of choir. The first episode was only partially explained and somewhat chaotic. But Gareth could charm the horns off a charging buffalo and I have faith in him

Monday 23 March 2020

Remote learning

Today was my first singing lesson on Skype. My webcam still hasn’t arrived so I could see V but she couldn’t see me. Which is it as it should be. I am older, raddled and given to insincere smiles. V, in contrast, has a powerful message: singing is uplift.

I felt strangely formal, glad I’d doffed my pyjamas and shaved even if I was invisible. Skype forces V to talk more and I realised how much of her tuition is usually non-verbal: a brief noise as I repeat a defect, the piano hammered harder for emphasis, a finger pointing ceilingwards in preparation for a high note, a frown, a smile. In real three-dimensional life silences can be tolerated but not on Skype.

V’s chin appeared to be resting on the bottom edge of my monitor frame. She got up and added another pillow to her stool. Added another. A slight improvement. But why was she constantly looking to her left? Because her Skype-equipped laptop rested on the piano immediately in front and the score had had to be moved.

The lesson was hyper-technical, half an hour devoted to the song’s first four or five notes. I fretted, unable to re-create my own timbre. Demonstrating, V leant forward, forming her lips into a tight circle, then restricting their width with her index fingers; patient as always. I continued to stumble, knowing now how I’d be spending the forthcoming six days in my study.

After more than four years of lessons we’ve become friends, talking briefly about our families and the politics we both hate. For the moment Skype inhibits this. Even so it’s a far greater improvisation than I imagined. And the sound quality is not half bad. Infection is held at bay, progress is tangible.

I sing Schubert's Der Lindenbaum

Here something a little less Serious

And here the Mozart aria I was asked to sing at Lesson No. 1

Finally Lucy's earworm

Saturday 21 March 2020


Plague  Post 3

SPEAKING IN TONGUES “Vox. pop.” – mainly a TV practice - is lazy, useless journalism. Send cameras on to the streets and get the public to bulk out the news broadcasts. Its futility became apparent during Brexit; clearly these random victims – from both sides – had no idea about the increasingly complex issues and could only burble banalities.

The Plague has changed all that. Touched to the core, people speak clearly, factually and often with great originality. I should have jotted some quotes but I was transfixed by the new articulacy. Except for the one: a nurse in tears, having finished a 48-hour shift, arrived late at the supermarket and found nothing to eat. Those shelf strippers might end up needing my services, she said, crying softly.

HEY, BIG SPENDER On Friday we had a celebration; dinner in a Michelin-starred restaurant famed for its front-of-house welcome. That at least was the plan. Instead I called in at Majestic and bought a 2006 vintage bottle of Moet plus an extreme shiraz from Australia. Not looking at the prices. The check-out guy said, “Unfortunately that will be…”

I trawled history. More than twice what I paid for my first motorbike. A single seat at the ludicrously over-priced Royal Opera House. Four times the cost of the suit I got married in. Much more than the engagement ring. Couldn’t have invited the tearful interviewee; we were self-isolating. Lacerated by guilt.

WE NEED SOMETHING FUNNY A wicked back-blast of wind as he mounted the stairway to Air Force One proved Trump was absolutely right to adopt the weird hairstyle he flaunts. Covering a multitude of sins.

Where was he going? To buy some golf-balls, said someone. Even presidents need time off from the burdens of state.

Thursday 19 March 2020

By the pricking of my thumbs...

Trumpian Plague notes 2

CORONAVIRUS RE-CHRISTENED Why, asked my ever-literal brother, did I choose Trumpian to identify the plague. I pointed out the virus is unpleasant, so’s Trump, they are in fact a matched pair. Quod erat demonstrandum.

MORE LAUGHTER PLEASE I sent this comment to a blog where things were getting serious.

Look, I lived through WW2. Aged 5 - 10 I wasn't at the height of my intellectual powers as I am now but I recognised that unrelieved gloom would be a destructive mono-diet. We didn't just hate Adolf, we laughed at him. To Colonel Bogey, the tune made even more famous in the movie Bridge Over the River Kwai, we sang:

Hitler has only got one ball,
Göring has two but very small,
Is very similar,
While poor old Goebbels
Has no balls at all.

Which is why I maintain we are presently suffering from the Trumpian Plague.

If you think the vocabulary or the sentiments of the lyrics above may offend the sensibility of your readers feel free to use the Delete button. And erect a sign: "Look what testicular inadequacy did for them."

BUYING THE GUARDIAN We do it via pre-paid vouchers, it helps the paper’s cash flow. The nearest source is Tesco’s filling station. How might we reduce mutual infection risks? The staff agreed to use the night-payment “drawer” in the daytime. No change is involved, no breath intermingled, contact is minimal

Tuesday 17 March 2020

Pepys updated

Trumpian Plague notes 1.

NEW NAME Corona is the rarefied gaseous envelope of the sun and other stars. A nice thing, it doesn’t deserve worldwide obloquy. Hence the re-christening.

SPEED OF LIGHT Took Grandson Ian to bus station for journey home to Luton. Pre-seven AM, Hereford’s centre was naturally deserted. But here’s a thing: the traffic-lights change more quickly at this unearthly hour. Were we racing towards something? Could it be good?

BAD TEMPER Recently attached notices at Tesco check-outs: “Please treat our colleagues with respect”. I asked manager: Are customers really squabbling over loo paper? Exactly that, he said. Customer arrives as doors open, wants to clear out all newly stacked rolls. Tesco demurs; says sales are rationed. Customer says she/he  wants to distribute rolls to elderly. But Tesco cannot verify this. Unpleasantness ensues.

SYMPTOM Returning to car at bus station I sense a minor headache. This is not one of the official signs for Trumpian Plague (dry cough, feverishness) but one never knows… Then I remember hammering the Armagnac the night before, toasting Ian’s cooking and general assistance.

TV NEWS Watched our Plague’s mastermind on NBC news clip. Could growing inarticulacy be a sign of the illness’s onset? Could we be in for a dose of Pence’s Power of Prayer?

THE GREAT COMFORTER Try Byrd's Mass for Four Voices. His dates (1539/40 or 1543 - July 4 1623) means he had the foresight to get himself born, and to die, well before the Great Plague of London 1665 - 66.  My version (Choir of St John's College Cambridge, conducted by George Guest) is both tranquil yet thrilling. How can that be? Because it's music I tell 'ee, blessed music.

Monday 16 March 2020

An 8 x 8 in. answer?

During WW2 we took The Daily Mail, a shocking admission given the mouth-foaming, rightwing rag it has become. I can’t be blamed: I was only 10 when Adolf blew his brains out.

But how did my parents regard toilet paper then? Izal had a shiny side and a dull side and, for a time, offered single-line, Christmas-cracker jokes on each sheet. Encouraging users to tear off more sheets - literally - for a laugh.

But I think my mother regarded Izal as a luxury. Instead she cut up The Daily Mail into 8 x 8 in. squares and this did the job. Leading to further problems. A user, fascinated by part of an article on his (unused) square, would riffle through the others to discover how things turned out.

Lack of toilet paper seems to characterise the Trumpian Plague presently visited upon us. So how about 8 x 8 in. squares of The Guardian? A key question: is the The Guardian sufficiently soluble? Given our ages (80 and 84), we may be house-isolated for FOUR MONTHS! A jammed toilet would be just dandy.

Any sewage experts out there?

Rictangular Lenses. My novel, 49,011 words.
Lindsay had become familiar with such tours and knew what to look for. Tidiness was important where metal was being cut and drilled, Renewell recognised this and the painted floors shone. A forklift with specialised attachment worked at Goods In, speeding the flow of raw materials and allowing the large delivery doors to be kept closed. CAD was rampant, but that was to be expected.

Lindsay queried the operator in charge of a laser-cutter burning out complex shapes in mild steel.“How long to set up?”

He laughed. “Ten times faster than manual programming...”

READ TONE DEAF, The prescient blog

Wednesday 11 March 2020

Welsh white water

Grandson Ian is staying for the Borderlines Film Festival and there are still more films to go. When we have only one movie a day (or none at all) we look for diversions. We had planned a drive into wildest Wales, up the Elam Valley past the chain of reservoirs built ambitiously and expensively by the Victorians. But the forecast said yet more rain (and thus more flooding) and this is remote territory to get stuck in. But the morning was bright and optimistic and I thought: Bugger it! Why not?

Which led to an epiphany.

We've done this run before and the roads get narrower and more vestigial. Also, on this occasion, more sodden. But ahead was a touring bus based surprisingly in Ingleton, a settlement in the pretty part of Yorkshire, my home county. The driver was taking things easy, splashing along, and we weren't in a hurry.

Eventually we reached the lowest reservoir and briefly parked. Across the road is a substantial viewing area overlooking the lip of the reservoir wall. A woman coming in the opposite direction warned us, intensely, to take care: the wind had almost blown her over. She wasn't kidding. I was buffeted by hard cushions of wind and the overflow of water roared down 150 metres into a raging white fog. The natural power was palpable, my sense of self shrunk to nothingness.

But here's the epiphany. VR is uncertain on her pins these days but had insisted on coming with me to that violent edge. I held her tight and we stayed only a few seconds, but these were seconds of extreme experience. "It's wonderful," she shouted against the tumult, "I'm glad I came."

A fig for being old.

Tuesday 10 March 2020

Big but blank evening

VR and I have been married for a “round” period of years. You’d think I’d remember our first encounter in London since I’d only recently escaped the sexual prison that was the North of England. But with one exception (which I’ll get to) the evening is a blank.

I know we formed a foursome, the other male being my flatmate. VR tells me we went to The Doves, a pub in Hammersmith, west London. But what did we talk about? Did we kiss? I have no idea. At the time VR (then VT) was an SRN (state registered nurse) at Charing Cross Hospital, about 200 yards from the absolute centre of London. Since my conversation – for better or for worse – is to ask questions I’m sure I would have interrogated her about her job. But I recall nothing.

What’s remarkable is that somehow I managed to stumble through those early weeks and we stayed together. I was 25 and my only experience of womanly company consisted of three visits to the cinema with a West Riding girl who grew increasingly puzzled by my flamboyant talk. It was she who suggested we brought this monologue to an end.

VR and I did have one crisis – conveyed by written note – but I don’t think I took it seriously. I conclude this was an expert reaction and yet didn’t realise this at the time.

Here’s the remembrance. My flatmate had use of a van.  VR and I sat on the wooden floor in the back as he drove VR back to her flat. I needed her telephone number but had neither pen nor paper, a shocking admission for a journalist. With an old-fashioned penny piece I scratched the seven-figure number on the van’s interior. Perhaps it’s still there.

Saturday 7 March 2020


My faith restored
I couldn't leave things as they were - whingeing about Borderlines' less-than-perfect performance this year. I owe that organisation far too much and all is now as it should be.

We drove through the dark on narrow rutted lanes, often through great splashy puddles left behind by the incessant rain. Few signs of habitation. We might have been in Transylvania.

Our destination was Michaelchurch Escley which is a real mouthful. Estimated population for 2018 was 209. The approach to the village hall was the Bumpy Alps in miniature but the welcome was warm and, as the projector switched on, the audience became silent and remained so for the ensuing 100 minutes. We watched Pain and Glory, an effortlessly impressionistic bio-pic of the film director's life. With any other director it would have seemed indulgent but this was Pedro Almodóvar, Spain's greatest, nay Europe's greatest, nay... (fill in your preference).

He is no stranger to us. We've seen: Tie me up! Tie me down!, Volver, Talk to her (The poignancy!), All about my mother, The skin I live in. I turned to VR as the lights went up and said something which I now forget. She said, simply, "Ah..."

All with sub-titles of course. If you have problems and assuming you can read, you must cast this defect to one side. Otherwise you will continue to miss PA's invention, his sense of fun, and the unbelievable variety of his supporting characters. Doubly missing these things since you will want to see these films a second time.

You wouldn't want to go through life with a PA-shaped hole in it. Honest.

Wednesday 4 March 2020

Borderlines sags. Oh, no!

Borderlines Films Festival, now in its 18th year. We've attended most and seen about 20 movies over a fortnight each year. Wonderful memories but for the first time, after six viewings, disappointment has reigned.

Blackbird (Middle-class Eastern seaboarders, including my angel Susan Sarandon, discuss and practice euthanasia. I am not persuaded). Photograph (Wandering unresolved non-love story in Mumbai). Bait (Travails of Cornish fishermen; almost comical chain of technical errors by student film-makers). Little Women (Beautifully shot, beautifully acted but somehow hollow; "self conscious" period costumery).

So thanks for Parasite (Hated by the US president. South Korean blackest of black comedy with serious points to make. See pic.). The Personal History of David Copperfield (Capturing the essence of Dickens but without any of his egregious faults.)

Rictangular Lenses, my current novel, now back on track. 48,336 words

The Platinum Breakfast had included scrambled eggs dotted with flakes of smoked salmon. Lindsay tried a forkful but pushed the tray away; fish seemed alien at half-past-seven in the morning. She drank only coffee and ignored the toast, the croissant and the boutique-ish jar of jam said to contain Tyne Valley strawberries. Were strawberries grown this far north? Were they yet another part of the region’s laborious struggle to find enterprises that would replace the metal-shaping that had once occupied half the workforce?