● 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.

Thursday 30 April 2020


Amazon is a money-making volcano which hardly pays any taxes and puts smaller businesses to the sword at five-minute intervals. It is a useful symbol for lefties who want to berate capitalism. Its internal economy probably exceeds that of Poland. The name may well be on most people's lips at least weekly, possibly daily. Yet it remains oddly anonymous. I for one have never heard anyone say: I love Amazon.

Amazon got the way it is through logistical efficiency, a subject I was paid to understand. I can confirm: Amazon is efficient. Sure it makes mistakes but so does Poland. So does - whisper it not in Gath! - the USA.

But still you'd type Amazon as heartless.

Cast your mind back to childhood fables. The words "a magic wand" arose and you wanted one, didn't you? Hold that thought for a moment.

We are living in times which disprove John Donne's most famous line of poetry: all men are islands. We phone our closest, email them, text them, Skype them but they remain unapproachable. Sometimes we feel the urge to do more. Send them a gift, not lavish but well-chosen. Most of all we want to do it now, while the urge still burns. We need that magic wand, and Amazon supplies it. The pop-up says: Buy it. One click, it's done.

VR magically caused John Carey's A Simple History of Poetry to drop into my lap. Brother Sir Hugh did the same with Staying Alive - Real Poems for Unreal Times (even more generous given I'd savaged his first sonnet). Deborah Orr’s Motherwell arrived for VR from daughter Occasional Speeder. There've been others and we’re ashamed of our forgetfulness.

Hateful Amazon. But so efficient.

Reliving the Old Times

Talk to an intellectual. It's cheap. It's uplifting
I was lousy at school. Didn't care, didn't study, avoided homework. English was OK but what the heck is English? Writing sentences that make sense and understanding books. Hardy's The Trumpet Major had characters that irritated me but I knew the plot back to front. And that's all you needed.

History? Just disconnected events. The Agricultural Revolution and Jethro Tull's spiffing seed drill. Not the singer you understand. And not enough for a GCE O-level.

Many teachers were ancient, the young ones were out fighting WW2. These whiskery dodderers had one commitment - to corporal punishment, often ingeniously contrived. One lurched away from their lessons in pain.

Later, reacting against my tormenters, I took up history. Read a tome (ie, a book with many footnotes) about the 1832 Reform Act; it's more racy than you think. I've thought a lot about history during The Plague. Is it repeating itself?

You see, for me the stay-at-home rules were already in place. All my interests are practised indoors. I don’t care if the sun shines or if it snows. I can sing Schubert regardless. One day resembles another.

Just a minute, though. Isn't this like life during the Stone Age? An Age which happened in history, like most Ages. Stone Man probably didn't sing, certainly not Schubert. But he got to know the inside of his cave very well. Might I turn into a fossil?

Of course I’m drinking more. Stone Man may have had mead, but you could tire of that. I’ve tasted mead, I know. For me there are thousand wines from France, beer, Armagnac. A singing pie-eyed fossil, then? Living in a reconstructed cave like a museum display. Look folks, a Stone Age computer monitor! £10 for the guided tour. Could be worse.

Monday 27 April 2020

A big step for mankind

My theme is transition and I've 35 minutes to achieve it. V has brought forward my Skyped singing lesson; by 08.30 I will be warbling.

Not all transitions but that between in bed and out of it. Most of us leave bed reluctantly especially in winter. Who would willingly swap the duvet for a frosty morning? Well, there are such stoics and I wish them luck.

Those who let others do their thinking refer to an earlier transition - from the womb and into an uncertain world. A facile parallel. We leave the womb unthinkingly, the object of our reflexes. Many remain in this state for the rest of their lives but I try not to. For me the transition must be an adult sensation.

For those who have yet to pass through middle age I have an unpleasant revelation. As the years go by the act of getting dressed becomes more and more of a burden. Wheezily concertina-ring the stomach in order to pull on our socks. Hovering out of balance as we thrust our left leg down the left trouser slot. But without - this is a matter of honour - clinging to the window sill.

Then there's light, blessed confirmation we haven't slipped into permanent darkness as we snored. Welcome light but the first seconds involve an assault that comes close to scorching our eyeballs. We blink. Our eyes water. We are pitiful.

The loo beckons, an essential waystation between sleeping and getting up. There's relief to be had there but also a mild shame. How is that this part of my anatomy  plays the dictator so effectively?

By 07.48 I’d finished. MS Word counted 338 words. I did my warbling then wielded the axe. Down to 293. All’s well.

Friday 24 April 2020

Rounded with a sleep

I wake up sweating - I could be dead. Reduced to a chiselled inscription on some badly maintained war memorial.

I mean there were so many opportunities. The war in Korea, the Greco-Turkish spat in Cyprus, panga-ed to bits by the Mau-Mau in Kenya, dead of the fever in Malaya. And didn't something nasty happen in Aden? - God knows what. The bullets all missed me and I was saved to do a job in journalism which added not a farthing nor a half-penny to the British national economy.

And then again, journalism's a volatile occupation. Thrice was I made redundant. I could have ended up as a security guard in a shopping mall, cleaning out the bogs in a primary school, or simply applying - hopeless and broken - to the Job Centre, being paid some miserable sum by the state and succumbing to malnutrition.

So was I saved to die in extreme old age, ravaged lungs flapping like autumn leaves, a victim of what the hateful orange-faced loon calls The Chinese Disease? If so it seems so anti-climactic and I've learned to avoid such conclusions, at least when writing fiction.

I've dried off the sweat. Well it's got to happen some way; suppose it was my choice. A touch of nobility, perhaps. Accidentally revealing some arcane Anglo-Irish detail here in Tone Deaf and having my Skoda Octavia sent sky high by those grim-faced guys of the Real IRA. As if their bomb-happy predecessors were inefficient amateurs.

Struck down by a heart-attack while straining to complete the perfect Shakespearean sonnet, the final rhyming couplet only hinted at? A teaser for Eng. Lit. scholars yet to be born.

The trouble is we regard our death as an event. It isn’t, it’s merely an end. A cessation. Night following day*

*And that’s the 299th word.

Wednesday 22 April 2020

...in a most delightful way

It's not fear, rather a heightened awareness just below the surface. Dormant for much of the day but easily triggered. Typically the sight of two people, awkwardly and distantly disposed, voices slightly raised, trying to chat normally yet ending up self-conscious. Ah yes, you say, I know why.

Skyping with our daughters the meteor shower is mentioned. We go out into the back garden (US: yard) and imagine occasional flashes in the darkening sky. Decide to come out fifteen minutes later when it will be truly nighttime. The flashes - if they are occurring - remain inconclusive. But we're out there in our PJs, dressing gowns and slippers. Would we have done this if it hadn't been for... well, you know, the surrounding perturbations?

People are dying, the Ten O'Clock News says so, and I'm reminded of funerals. How they became a subject of detestation when we lived in the US. Cost, of course, but also an apparent conspiracy to ensure the cost remained high. Coffins (US: caskets) at unbelievable sums. A regulation to surround the interred box in a sort of concrete coffer dam. Arch solemnity.

A life insurance company offered us free will-creation and we mutually agreed to "the cheapest possible" funeral. But how about dropping off the unneeded rubbish at some medical school? Might we be too old for the anatomy students?

Death can be expressed mathematically and that’s amusing. Advanced age? Check. Underlying condition? Does bronchiectasis count? Will I make 2021? Hey! We’ve cancelled the villa rental in July, transferred the deposit to next year. I don’t fancy snuffing it without speaking French again.

Suddenly it’s personal. But a Wild Bill's IPA (sold out at Aldi, alas) will suppress unwanted awareness.

Sunday 19 April 2020

Whither the blog?

NOTE: A much-sniffed lamp-post. Yet still I sniff.

This post has been deleted by the author. One of its several defects was its argument was far too casually advanced, and could be construed as offensive. This was not my intention and I apologise wholeheartedly

Saturday 18 April 2020

Not being old

I'm old, lack useful employment, am tempted towards alcoholism, living tremulously under the wing of the Angel of Death. Once things were different. Not exciting, fruitful or worthy of record, just different.

A friend drives me 90 miles from London towards Thetford in Norfolk. I am to cover motorbike racing at Snetterton for the magazine that employs me. Snetterton circuit, formerly an RAF station, is utterly flat, not at all spectator-friendly. That doesn't matter. My report won't depend on visual activity since I'll see very little of the races; instead I'll infer what happens and then ask questions.

Taking part are Britain's best bike racers of the period, Mike Hailwood (see pic), Phil Read, Derek Minter. The sport is shockingly dangerous and these guys are my heroes. I would pay to see them race if I had to.

As events proceed I compile coded accounts of the races. Each racer has a number and I record their positions lap by lap as they pass by the press box. In between races I slip down to the pits and talk to my heroes.

I joke with Phil Read, a raffish bandanna round his neck. He's helped a novice rider get his first "start" at this meeting. Does Phil expect to share his unlikely winnings? We laugh.

In the last race Mike Hailwood comes off. The sole of his elderly racing boot has torn away from the upper. His damaged toe, wrapped in a bloody bandage, doesn’t seem to trouble him. He too laughs as he explains what happened. Interview over he gets into his two-seater Jaguar with three girl-friends.

Back in the van I scribble the drama then type it up at the office. It’s late Sunday evening, just time for a pint.

A different part of my life.

Thursday 16 April 2020

The closed door

The prunus is full-leafed. Fine. How long should I stare at it?

The weather changes. Whoo-hoo! By ignoring "good" weather one is less inclined to whinge about rain, etc.

The Malverns (low hills nearby) remain. And will continue to do so.

Unlike the great majority I don't yearn to be outdoors. For those who regard this as peculiar let me explain: the trick is to turn "indoors" into a virtue. I can write, sing and think without assistance from meteorology and these activities exert a powerful magnetism. Brother Sir Hugh asks how such magnetism may be applied.

Faulkner, receiving the Nobel  Prize, put it well:

"... to create out of the materials of the human spirit something which did not exist before."

Not that I'd make such grandiose claims for myself. More simply then: to make something new and, if possible, original.

This requires elaboration. Prose and thought are potential vehicles for originality but how does singing qualify? First, as one progresses, the exhilaration increases and this is a huge benefit. And of course all performances, unless they are recorded, are original, even if that is cheating somewhat.

What I'm talking about are "informed" performances. The ones that incorporate all the corrections and insights picked up at the last lesson. A singer, practising alone, must always avoid repeating the former flawed performance and aim for the improved version. And here’s the point. I’m usually singing acknowledged masterpieces. An improved version should take me closer to what the composer had in mind, even if perfection is unattainable. I am not of course creating a masterpiece only creating a step that takes me nearer to that distant concept. And that step is original.

Is this sophistry? Outdoorists, keen to be grazing on the tussocks, might say yes.

So be it.

Monday 13 April 2020

Quintessence of un-chic

A neighbour sent me THIS VIDEO saying it reminded him of VR and me. I'm not at all flattered by this association (haven't asked VR) but it does have a certain gruesome appeal.

The best thing is it's short. The action will mystify you and I'm afraid this is intentional. It's just possible it may be intended to make you laugh, in which case it fails.

Those with a keen ear will notice it's in French. Yes, I'd noticed that too.

But such French! The actors are probably of that nation but they're worried someone might think they were Romanian or born on the wrong side of Donald Trump's blanket. A bit like the Cockneys who appeared in that dreadful British TV series Allo! Allo! Keener to suggest they came from East London than the Rhone Valley.

Make what you can of it. Never forgetting: it's short.

NOTE: This the first video I've ever embedded. At 1 min 16 sec switch it off. Otherwise unwanted junk will follow.

Saturday 11 April 2020

Unguided minds

Jo(e) showed impossibly neat bookshelves
on her blog. Here's one of mine. Would you
say Homerically untidy? Tell the truth I'm
a tiny bit proud of this lack of organisation
PJ PRACTICE At what time of day may one decently change into pyjamas? The Reagans (former White House residents) thought 6.30 pm was OK but then he was already snoring by 9 pm.

A more cogent point is: what are we risking? Are pyjamas a sign we prefer sleep and/or preparing for sleep to being awake? Intellectually we've given in? Some people cloud the issue with talk about pyjamas being "comfortable" but what does this say about the clothes they normally wear?

I was very conscious of the Reagans when I first changed into PJs while it was still light. Now Wiki tells me that Ronnie departed the presidency at age 78. And I am six years older than he was then.

Drinking booze while wearing PJs. There's another tester.

SCREENING Skyping the family is now a routine. And we've widened the circle, Professional Bleeder has joined us. For a few seconds we were even wider: Darren, Occasional Speeder's husband, could be seen tentatively cutting grandson Zach's hair, leaving him with a Half-Monk.

When VR joins me we're a foursome and you realise the need for a workable protocol. None of us is good at guessing when others have stopped talking. Interruptions become endemic. My facetiousness is now a burden to me as well as the others. There's a two-second gap before laughter is signalled and this gets on my nerves. More so when laughter is not signalled.

I have plans for our next session (6 pm today) for which OS has said we should all have a drink (s?) in advance, and then drink steadily and visibly throughout. This could alter the goalposts.

DEFINITION The question: What's posh? arose. Daniel, Ysabelle's partner, said it depended on having two or more gravy-boats. That went down well.

Friday 10 April 2020

A little fervent noise

I'm a creature of habit. I believe routine helps octogenarians maintain their tenuous hold on life even when black-shadowed Plague is not idly deciding who next to strike down. When he is abroad I want him (He's surely a he.) to think: "Nah, not that old geezer with the wavy white hair. He's too ordinary."

Thus I reserve my news gathering for the TV News at Ten, late evening. I am under-informed during the day.

So it was VR, facing our living-room windows, who announced a degree of action among our otherwise non-existent neighbours last night as it got dark. "They're getting ready for the hand-clapping," she said.

I was shot through with guilt. Hand-clapping on our own door-steps, as a tribute to our much endangered National Health Service and health carers, has become a nationwide tradition, 8 pm, Thursday. I'd missed it the previous week because of my news habits. I rushed out in my stocking feet.

Not much was happening. I shouted to L, emerging with her kids: "Looks as if we're going to be lonely." But I was wrong. Other front doors were opening, often poignantly disclosing a singleton widow or widower. R who is neither, who lives opposite and who has loaded us with kindnesses, played Land of Hope and Glory, someone else blew a whistle, the rest clapped.

The nearby houses are all detached which meant clappers were somewhat dispersed. But unity may arrive less obviously. Dupuytren’s Contracture has curled my little finger inwards and I’m a lousy clapper. But I adapted. Back indoors the TV revealed larger crowds, countrywide, making more noise. We were understated, very British, no adjacent TV cameras.

I’ll do it again next week. I urge participation, even if you’re alone. I promise: you won’t feel a fool.

Sunday 5 April 2020

It beats crying

Neighbour Richy asked could he bring us
anything from Tesco. Yes please, we said. These
appeared (full) on the doorstep. Guess why
I like making people laugh. It’s socially rewarding, of course, but it also has psychological advantages.

Make someone laugh and you’ve aroused their interest. That’s always worthwhile even if it may be fundamentally selfish.

As in France where laughter can be a powerful conversational tool. Laughing Frenchmen are comparatively rare. Address one in French and he’ll immediately detect the foreign accent. His face takes on a certain remoteness, a certain condescension. He imagines he’s starting out on top.

Let’s suppose he operates a DIY shop and I’m looking for bath taps. “They must be easy to operate,” I say. He nods. I pause, then add casually, “Although I’m English I do wash regularly.”

That initial pause may disconcert him; have I been struck dumb? However the following admission will not only surprise him it may suggest this is how Frenchmen do, or should, regard Brits. Other nationalities would apologise here. Not the French. My DIY man laughs knowingly, showing he’s in on the joke. Spreads his hand on the counter, better disposed to listen, to treat me as an equal.

Doctors are different. They are endowed with built-in superiority. You are a medical conundrum that needs resolving, often a humdrum and familiar collection of defects. This mode has been repeated a thousand times.

You stop, you sigh, you wriggle in your chair. You say, “These symptom confessions are a problem. Too much detail and I appear paranoid and self-centred. Too little and I’m surly, perhaps resenting the fact you’re not a herbalist.”

Hey, I’m sympathetic. There’s not much to laugh at in the average doctor’s surgery. Especially now. Doctors enjoy an occasional laugh. Indulge them. You may save the human race.

This post attracted NO COMMENTS. I wasn't offended; it has happened before. Tone Deaf is not one of the world's must-reads.

But perhaps you tried and didn't get through. Perhaps - for reasons unknown - the system didn't pick up your blogonym automatically. This is required info; without it a comment is blocked. However if the slot adjacent to "Commenting as:" is blank, just fill in your blogonym manually and the comment should go through. When you make your next comment (I'm been terribly optimistic in this) the previously empty slot should now carry your blogonym and all should be well.

Thursday 2 April 2020

Viral stuff

Plague positrons

THE BIG WIPE? Toilet rolls have been leaving supermarket shelves at rocket speeds. Yes, customers are panic-buying but why toilet rolls? Is Britain suffering from collective diarrhoea? If not, why not flaked almonds or vanilla essence – two things we recently invested in. And “invested” is the right word; the tiny bottle of essence cost £6.

The answer is mundane. Toilet rolls have high unit volume (ie, they’re bulky) and they’re sold in multiples, four rolls being the minimum. Twenty purchases could clear 3 metres of shelf-space; twenty purchases of Heinz baked beans and you’d hardly notice. We’re more aware of the absence of toilet rolls than that of other stuff.

VERSE SUSPENDED. I write occasional verse. Not very good but we literary guys have to aspire. Verse is two things: the subject and the unique way we handle it. Two factors that don’t always arrive simultaneously. When they do, we start scribbling.

A month ago I had me a subject: the onset of death. The conceit involves analogies with tidal function and the present tense of verbs. I’m almost finished. But now hardly seems the time to publish.

IT LOOKS ARTIFICIAL. The Plague is keeping me away from Shara, my stylist. My hair it groweth, as you can see. But whence came the wave? Does prettiness presage The End?

SILENCED VOICE My smartphone allows me to command Google orally. At which I become bossier than normal, which means much bossier. I was mildly interested but after a week I reverted to traditional methods. Does anyone still use this unnecessary function?