● 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 May 2020

Here's to good health

Last night at eight the street stood on their thresholds and clapped a tribute to the NHS and other key workers. Possibly for the last time. I hope the NHS doesn't take this as a signal to withold future treatment.

Richy, our neighbour, has added to these occasions by playing carefully selected songs through the hi-fi of the caravan parked in his drive. Those I can remember are: We'll Meet Again (Vera Lynn), Land of Hope and Glory (Probably the audience at a Proms concert), Sing As We Go (Gracie Fields), There'll Always be an England (Anon).

Richy knew exactly what was needed - songs which almost everybody had heard before and could at least hum. Familiar and simple, musically on a par with Happy Birthday. My choices would have ruined the event.

But what would I have chosen? Music that represented England but avoided Brexit's angry isolationism. The oldest, perhaps: Summer is Icumen in.

No need to be serious: Noel Coward wasn't serious in The Stately Homes of England. But - to my horror - I find one line is antisemitic. So no-go.

How about another oldie (17th century): Over the Hills and Far Away.

The introduction to Fairest Isle (Notes: Henry Purcell; words, poet laureate John Dryden; soprano, Anna Dennis) is subdued but the melody is glorious

Or perhaps the best (ie, the most philosophical) song from World War One: Pack up your troubles. (Note the horrific words of encouragement from the nurse.)

Tuesday 26 May 2020

Plague: Bittersweet benefits

Don’t get me wrong: the Plague has been, is, and will be a nightmare. People I’ve valued have died, the world’s potential shrunk, the cost horrific. But…

Online grocery shopping: At first it was a scramble to book delivery slots. Now it's routine. I may never visit Tesco again.

Cold calls/scams on landline phone: Disappeared.

Glyndebourne Opera Festival: Swanky, expensive, exclusive. We'd been twice, at others' expense. This year we may watch Mozart's three greatest operas (Figaro, Don G., Cosi) in matchless performances, at any time of our choosing, lolling in our living room FOR FREE. Under normal circumstances, given the degree of comfort we will enjoy, this would have cost £900 plus three 400-mile round trips by car. A donation seemed in order.

Hay Festival: Three weeks of wide-ranging cultural experience (Science, philosophy, literature, politics, what-have-you) is online FOR FREE. But this is sadder. Hay is nearby and had become an annual social delight with two friends from London and grandson Ian. A donation seemed mandatory.

Local friendship: We are not normally sociable; our interests are not outgoing. In the weeks of lockdown I've said more hellos to people living on our estate than in the whole of the last twenty years.

Local generosity: Despite our surliness two neighbours have regularly done unforeseen ad hoc shopping for us. Reducing the Plague risks of shopping in person, given we are both in our eighties.

Family integration: Regularly, each week, three elements of our family (living 24 miles, 64 miles and 170 miles away from Hereford) foregather on Skype for meaningless chat. Except it isn't meaningless.

Singing lessons: On Skype. Even more intense than in V's living room. V's eyes bore in, critically. And ears, if ears can bore in.

Sunday 24 May 2020

Might laughter still be the best medicine?

There's laughter there and it can work
Find ways of laughing at Trump, I say quietly, knowing I live 3546 miles away from Trump's Palace of All the Vanities.

Oh no, he's too awful, say some of those who live nearer.

But isn't that dangerous? Isn't it giving in? Acknowledging that he has the power to strangle laughter at birth, a great weapon for a narcissist who hates being laughed at?

Ask Stephen Colbert who hosts A Late Show, a US chat show. Or Alec Baldwin. Or The Guardian's cartoonist, Steve Bell, who portrays this portly displaced businessman by substituting a toilet for his head. I laugh at all three. Not happily, you understand. Wryly, perhaps. Maliciously. Recognising the strange truths.

And because of a secondhand book I devoured soon after WW2. Cartoons by those who pursued caricature in occupied Europe. Notably in countries like Czechoslovakia and Bulgaria. At a time when monsters even more awful than Quiffman were in charge. Ah, the bitter imagination. The ghastly fun.

I am old enough to have known the McCarthy Era in the US (late 40s into the 50s). And to have read newspapers throughout. This jowly, distinctly unfunny guy, with virtually no qualifications other than a talent for slander, ruined thousands of lives. Perhaps some poked fun but I can't recall; mostly, fear reigned. Eventually a judge, Joseph N. Welch, stood up and called him a reckless liar and that started McCarthy’s downslide. Welch became a national hero. Better still, he played a persuasive role in a great movie, Anatomy of a Murder. Now that was kind of funny.

We need a new Welch. Not perhaps a judge. Someone who recognises the dark comedy in Trump and Plague-masks. Great, says Stephen Colbert, we’d see less of his face.

Sunday 17 May 2020

October 1, 1960

Time-warp and the wedding dress
The godless smile was blurred deliberately,
I’m damned if I know why. But since that day,
And all that I’ve gained uxoriously,
I’ve earned some learning from this long delay.

The photo hints at churchly ritual,
At stoles and rings and mournful minstrelsy,
At rules avoiding matters sensual,
At problems solved by domesticity.

Back then I fixed my mind on other things,
Time past, time present, why not time to come?
The speech I later made, how now it stings,
The schism we just missed, the senses numb.

For how would marriage add to our estate?
My parents’ knot was one untied lament.
Would argument supplant our chaste debate?
Or quick words be a damned impediment?

The suit I wore, its cheapness, lack of style
My hair sleek cut, ears rashered at the side,
The paunch, the grin still weakly juvenile,
An intellect that hardly qualified.

These doubts, these faults were altar gifts I bore
From my side of the wedding sacrament;
Beware the groom confusing less with more,
Who treats the oath as an experiment.

That’s how I was, both callow and inept,
Clearly unfit for such an adult move
A lad deserving nowt but a lad’s respect
A shallow shadow of that ogre, love.

And that was then, and many since have died.
They’re there, above, their gifts I apprehend:
Thoughts, faces, wishes for me, all elide,
Those clothes! Ah yes! That world they do extend.

The dress, in white of course, it cost a mint
Ours – rather, hers – for just one nuptial day,
The fabric a celestial element,
The style a fig for any hint of disarray.

The lower skirt’s outspreading bell of light
Added a bodice sewn for modesty;
Maybe. But also something less polite:
A radiance of sexuality.

The dress, a symbol, as befits a bride,
To compensate for that drab Burton suit,
A day outshining what the night implied,
Dawn honoured by a womanly salute.

The rented dress went back; another bride
No doubt wore well its glaring purity.
And we were poor and comfort was denied
And winters brought their insecurity.

That dress and its unwonted luxury
Symbolically remains a shift in time.
A touch of grace, framed in austerity,
Before the climb that ended with this rhyme.

May 21: Faithful (and kind) readers of Tone Deaf will know I write verse, not poetry. To use the latter rather than the former would invite accusations of hubris. I've been at verse for half a dozen years and I had faint hopes this one might qualify for promotion. But in the stark light of day rather than the comfortable recesses of my noggin, I see this is not the case. There are one or two clusters ("mournful minstrelsy", "how now it stings", "celestial element") but the narrative - as I see it - is broken-backed. Reluctantly I realise I shall die an amateur and that's a word I particularly dislike.

Saturday 16 May 2020

Earth, incidentally

I walk deserted streets where cars are immobilised in driveways, houses look unused and it's unnaturally quiet. I sense tranquillity. But has tranquillity a use? Why not review international minutiae from my past?

I'm travelling one of many escalators in a huge department store in Tokyo looking for a novel by Graham Greene. Two parts of my life overlapping.

The tram taking me from a suburb of Pittsburgh to the city centre must be fifty years old. It growls and squeals like a herd of pigs entering an abattoir.

Cycling home to Stoke Newington, a north London suburb, I see a sign - Eggs: 1s 10d/doz. Resuming, with the eggs uneasily contained in a paper bag, is harassing.

We break the flight to New Zealand by staying overnight at a hotel in Kuala Lumpur. The swimming pool simulates a jungle grotto; I swim under dangling lianas.

Slivovitz is sold by the roadside between Opatija and Novi Vinodolski in what was Jugoslavia. It is frighteningly cheap. Inevitably we drink too much.

A secretary brings a trayful of expressos into the office of a managing director in Milan. Her long hair is dyed a deep copper colour I've never seen before. I am stirred.

I read a book as I dine alone in an authentic brasserie in southern Paris. Conversation around me is close to the threshold of pain yet I am at peace. Tranquil, even.

Breakfast in Cologne. A middle-aged woman works a laptop and I ask her opinion on Brexit. A Danish academic; she disapproves.

My only visit to Spain, the location forgotten. I sit in a beachside café while English pensioners shuffle past on a boardwalk, the living dead.

Today, here: A ravishing smell from the kitchen. Chilli on the hob. A fact worth recording.

Thursday 14 May 2020

Why is sex sex?

An infuriated email - Bloody French! - arrives from younger daughter, Occasional Speeder. The French Academy whose stern and ultimately futile task is to protect the French language from foreign influence has decreed this new word, Covid-19, will be feminine and take "la" as a definite article. How did they decide that? foams OS.

The answer is less interesting than the fury. Covid is an acronym derived from the first two letters of corona and virus and acronyms are feminine. Why? The Academy says so; you wouldn't want genderless nouns floating around without their... er, appendages. For what it's worth I looked up NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation) which the French, in their perverse way, refer to as OTAN (surely a Nordic god) and that too is feminine.

Such matters probably depend on a word's roots and that's dreadfully boring. Only people at a loose end get excited about it.

Except when it isn't boring. Aeons ago I reflected that the French word for death (morte) is feminine. Forget roots because most people can't handle the phonetic alphabet. This is creepy, unchivalrous and irrational. More men than women have been responsible for deaths and men should take the blame. All agreed say Aye. Aye.

But don't blame just the French. The Germans find it necessary to have a third gender: not just der and die but also das. Covering those who are in between. So why is a young girl (ie, maiden) called das Mädchen? Because the -chen indicates a diminutive. Yeah. I wince because I can't be bothered to confirm this and Sabine delights in picking out my linguistic errors. Yet is haughtily silent when I return the favour.

Perhaps it is all boring anyway.

Corrective update pic. See re-comment to Natalie.

Tuesday 12 May 2020

Impossible words

A love affair without music? Improbable? Impossible? It may come in two forms: music which accompanies the affair or actually expresses it. Thus two people may tomber amoureux to the strains of Roll Out The Barrel or Coca Cola's I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing. Accidental music, you might say. More interesting is intentional music, which foretells or echoes experience.

For me the best combination of tune and sentiment is by Handel:

Where'er you walk, cool gales shall fan the glade,
Trees where you sit, shall crowd into a shade.

Note, no first person singular. One lover wishes this situation - unselfishly - on the other. You feel things will go well.

When VR and I met our musical tastes were still widening. Sinatra's Songs for Swinging Lovers was in the air. Perhaps: I Thought About You:

I peeped through the crack
Looked at the track
One going back to you
And what did I do? I thought about you.

For love affairs are as much about thought as about action.

Now we might prefer Mozart (actually Schikaneder, the librettist):

This something I can not name,
Yet I feel it here like fire burning.

For love often converts badly into words. But it’s better in German.

Or how about Paul Simon?

The rooms were musty, and the pipes were old
All that winter, we shared a cold
Drank all the orange juice that we could hold
I do it for your love.

In Out of Arizona I needed a love quote and turned to Rabbie Burns:

As fair art thou, my bonie lass,
So deep in luve am I;
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a' the seas gang dry.

Over to you.

Sunday 10 May 2020

La Nouvelle de nos jours

Plague side-effects
CHRISTENED At the filling station where I pick up the newspaper I have become well-known - but not by name. The women who run the tills, a truly jolly lot, had organised a raffle, proceeds for the NHS. I dropped two tenners on the counter which temporarily left them short of tickets. I said I'd pick mine up the following day.

They were waiting as promised. I liked the way they'd identified me on the envelope (see pic).

UNBUDGING First it was more birds in general. Now the birds seem to realise there are fewer pedestrians and less traffic, and strut the pavements and the roads unfettered. One blackbird in particular only gives way grudgingly.

FLOWERY I hate all forms of gardening, but daughter Occasional Speeder hates gardening even more than I do. She lives 45 minutes away and in an act of unparalleled filial generosity she shopped for bedding plants, drove over with hubbie Darren, and planted them in our garden. On her knees, and groaning, she addressed me, hoping I recognised the supreme significance of this gesture. I did, and sent her off with a bottle of champagne and two bottles of Angry Orchard, a superb US cider.

MULTISYLLABIC As an aid to preparing my voice for my Skyped singing lesson, I do a pre-warm-up after sucking a Strepsil lozenge. This factoid is as banal as they come other than Strepsil's active constituents: 2,4-Dichlorobenzyl alcohol, Amylmetacresol and Levomenthol. As Hamlet says: "Speak the speech, I pray you, as I pronounced it to you, trippingly on the tongue..."

EXCESS I may eventually be re-christened The Hay Wain (See Constable)

Thursday 7 May 2020

It's simple, it's not

I scan my most recent posts and wring my hands in despair (uh-uh, cliché). The themes - and the way they are expressed - are more complex than I would wish. Why isn't simplicity more accessible? In fact simplicity is far harder than using lots of words. And there are musical parallels to support this.

Brahms’ Wiegenlied (Cradle Song) seemed like a good simple warm-up song when I started lessons. I sing it in German but you'll know the tune. Here's Richard Stokes translation:

Good evening, good night,
Canopied with roses,
Bedecked with carnations,
Slip beneath the coverlet.
Tomorrow morning, if God wills,
You shall be woken again.

But think of the way we speak to babies. The words "Tomorrow morning" take a highish note but we must not disturb our listener. Keep it quiet, keep it simple.

This morning a neighbour is due for surgery. We've known him and his partner for several years; their generosity and friendliness during The Plague have brought us all closer. I wish him well but surely that's a given. I don't see it as necessary to say it, although I said something vaguely similar when he went into hospital (See the previous post, Such stuff). This time I'd rather make him smile reminiscently; entertain him with something new. "Best wishes" won't cut it.

I know he's up for it because he's done it himself in an email to me. In response I mentioned Bernard Hepton's brilliant performance as Toby Esterhazy in Smiley's People. My neighbour took up the thread in his reply.

Something like that. That reaches out to him as a thinking person but doesn’t have me showing off. Original but simple. It’s quite hard, you know.

Monday 4 May 2020

Such stuff

Our Plague days are full of repetition. Yet we are individuals - multi-opinionated, varied, thousands of miles apart; what matters are the differences.

O what a piece of work is man
… infinite in faculties...

We must concentrate on - and cherish - those differences.

For the first time I posted about suspicion. It's an abstract noun and I expected little response. But Colette - tangentially - said newness isn't one of her enthusiasms. "Even when I buy new clothes I tend to let them hang, unworn, in my closet for weeks while they become familiar."

I could not have predicted that. I celebrate its difference.

V, my singing teacher, Skypes me a lesson from her living room. I've sung beside the piano in that living room for more than four years. Yet seeing it on my monitor brings the faintest tinge of voyeurism. A different viewpoint. I glance at my score and V says - quite sharply - "Look up. I need to see your face." In a chicklit novel that would be banally interpreted. In a singing lesson the shape of my mouth announces what I'm doing wrong. Obediently I raise my head. Is that new to you?

A neighbour goes into hospital, not - thank God - with plaguey symptoms. I email him, hoping fervently he's getting better. But he's a cheerful soul and shrugs off health matters. Prefers to write about the final tense scene in Smiley's People, the eighties’  TV series. I'm better equipped to tackle that subject and I realise this is a direct result of his generosity of spirit. A revelation which arrives by the back door.

Did you expect me to write about these matters? I hope not.

Do you consider yourself to be an individual? Of course you do.

Sunday 3 May 2020

One may smile, and smile, and be a villain

Where does suspicion lie? Old age makes you suspect innovation, even when the new thing turns out to have been discarded aeons ago by the rest of the world.

I mean, when was shower gel invented? Not too long after showers arrived, probably. At least twenty years ago someone left shower gel behind in our bathroom. I couldn't conceive how a gel worked under a shower and was too lazy to find out. The plastic tube mouldered. Today, following a discussion with VR, I'm ready to give gel a trial. The reasons don't matter. What does matter is the threat of ingrained suspicion.

Smartphones were introduced in 1992 and many Brits became ecstatic. The years rolled by and I continued to find reasons for not acquiring one. Especially I-phones and their potential link to bankruptcy. Recently I was persuaded when I discovered a smartphone could overcome having to retain enough coinage to pay small cash sums such as parking meter charges. Which, ironically, I've not yet done. Residual suspicion remains. I am not prepared to access my bank account by my Motorola.

Where you come from (especially if it's the West Riding of Yorkshire) can lead to embedded suspicion. Not only did I, born a Tyke, regard credit cards as the Devil's plastic, I lived in the USA for six years without one. Even rented cars. I cracked some time in the eighties/nineties; ever since I've paid off the total each month. Perhaps through fear rather than suspicion.

The above suspicions may be pathological. But to suspect politicians is a sign of good mental health, Especially now. One may even succumb to terror. Our lives in the hands of a cabinet of yes-people whose only known policy was to support Brexit.