● 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.

Sunday 28 June 2020

Blest be the ties that bind

Skype is technology (Yawn!), it's all to do with
computers (Boreeng!), it's a cheap way of making
telephone calls (Hey, I'm a skinflint, tell me more.)
Skype puts you where you want to be and is magic
Three times a week the Robinsons foregather virtually, via Skype. Not every member, ‘tis true, but the absentees’ reasons are understood and have our communal blessing. The family is no less a family.

The distances are puny compared with the USA. Newent, Gloucestershire, is only 25 miles from Hereford where VR and I live. Luton, Bedfordshire, on the other side of the country, 64 miles, and Tavistock, way down the south-western peninsula, 207 miles. Anything other than our electronic umbrella would be impractical.

The Tuesday and Thursday Skypes start at 5 pm and may be comparatively short with meals to prepare. But Saturday, at 6 pm, is special, given that drinks are not only allowed but encouraged. Even more so now, since a Grand Project is afoot, of which I may not yet speak.

Skype demands etiquette. When one Skyper talks over another, the system semi-strangles one or both of the voices and I search the sub-screens nervously for signs of a noose. To speak one must first examine other mouths to check whether words are about to burst forth.

VR and I (Little Grannie and Big Grandpa) remain stationary, fixed to our PC’s monitor. Others, freed by the mobility of their smartphones, ramble freely round their residences, as if in the Titanic as it sinks.

The atmosphere is febrile. Gusts of laughter mingle with half-heard insults. Gossip is endemic, though not pandemic. Those who have facts to dispense have a hard time being coherent. All of us hate the present government and near-obscenities are shouted out, never to be heard in layer upon layer of sound.

The affection is always in what we do, rarely in what we say. Family feeling must be implicit not stated. We are separate yet united, invisibly. It is our way.

Monday 22 June 2020


The Doon; blooms are fresh and fair, says the song
My singing lesson starts at 8.30 am. My study may be grotty but the world is tranquil outside. It's hot indoors and the window is closed so as not to irritate the neighbours.

Ploppetty-plop goes the Skype music and V's face appears on the PC screen asking what progress I've made with Ye Banks and Braes o' Bonnie Doon (see pic), working alone over the past week. Then there's the warm-up.

I imitate V singing the five-note phrase over and over, ascending, attending to variations in tone, pitch and repetition she slips in slyly. Sometimes three extra staccato notes, sometimes a hint of sorrow. My voice is solid and resonant but V's face remains neutral.

Up, up we go. To gain each higher phrase I must push harder but this must never be obvious. We are close to my ceiling and still V is expressionless. And now I suspect why. I sound the F which is the limit. This done, V does not slide back down to the E but sings the next one up, G. I do too. Shaky but it's a real note.

Now we drop down, with V adding all sorts of complexities. The warm-up is over. A ghost of a smile and V says, "You now a have two-octave voice."

My first thoughts are not of myself. I've been V’s pupil for nearly two-hundred lessons. From scratch.  She recognised I would do what she told me without lolly-gagging. Progress has not been straightforward since I hadn’t enough life left to learn all the technicalities. She picked songs to build up a serious yet varied repertoire. Her patience has been inexhaustible. The thrill of singing was never absent. Perhaps she already knew I could hit that G today.

Is that G mine or hers?

Thursday 18 June 2020

Heard world

Noises are not just sounds.

Early this morning I was raising the downstairs blinds and saw a black cat assessing my outdoor flower trough as suitable for faeces. Once I might have banged on the window, causing a low-frequency noise insignificant to cats. Accidentally my hand squeaked across the glass, the cat jerked round in gratifying horror, and sped away. High-frequency noise is bad karma to cats. Foolishly dogs growl at them, they should try whistling.

It's thundering now. Distant thunder is very low-frequency, emblematic of immeasurable power. Intellect tells me thunder is the sound of an admittedly destructive event but which has now happened. But I am not convinced. My guts have me imagine thunder ripping off my roof.

As a car tyre deflates its operative sound is transformed from an efficient whir into a hopeless squelch. Inanition personified. Looks bad too.

A wine glass topples from the drying rack. Having developed little momentum it glances off a metal pan and emits a pleasing melodic ping. Hitting the floor, a metre below, the shattering noise is much harsher. The difference between life and death.

Human infants depend on their looks (which encourage cuddling) and crying which, far from being piteous, consists mainly of relentless orders to obey. As difficult to ignore as a ringing phone.

Hard rain, without wind roar, soothes the mind. But only if you’re indoors.

The most unlovable sound occurs when the audio component of a streamed movie is briefly interfered with. Powerful amplifiers raise this uncongenial band of frequencies to a jagged, life-threatening extreme.

Might a jet engine be musically hermaphroditic? Waiting for take-off it grumbles like a very low basso profundo. As it climbs, and more fuel is burned quickly, it becomes a coloraturo soprano.

Sunday 14 June 2020

Enduring the bubble

Side-effects of self-isolation. I thought I was impervious since Plague life resembled the previous twenty-five years of retirement. I was wrong.

Picking up The Guardian at the filling station. Two glassed-off check-outs now operate. So it's two in, two out. A family relationship has developed with the women who run things. They smile as I arrive, I smile back - a tangible exchange of warmth.

Singing lessons via Skype. More intense, more serious. But the squalor of my study - see above - is getting me down, it does disservice to the music. By contrast, lessons chez V, were held in a spacious living room; the piano - piled high with scores - was reassuring. A music stand allowed me to sing standing up. On the opposite wall a Pre-Raphaelite woman looked down wistfully, burdened by the many wrong notes she had heard.

Drinking. Will I eventually be able to cut down on the Bloody Marys? The ritual is as seductive as the taste. Shaking five drops (no more) of Tabasco on the ice cubes. Drunk far too quickly.

TV. We have Netflix and Amazon Prime for free, courtesy Bella and partner, Occasional Speeder and Darren. At least 90% of the movies are beyond any adult consideration. But how bad can bad be? Might one try?

Reading. There are limits to the number of books one may have on the go simultaneously (Kindle is a pernicious factor in this). Beyond four and you need a printed list of the characters in all the novels.

Gift deliveries. These are often unpredictable, being impulse-driven. The doorbell still isn’t loud enough.

Eating. More frequently, off our knees in the living room. Sloppy.

News about The Plague. One’s capacity is finite and now shrinks week by week.

Birds. More abundant. Might they take over?

Wednesday 10 June 2020

Q&A as a way of life (Updated)

I was eleven when my father first asked what I wanted to be. "A reporter," I said. My answer was instinctive, I had no real idea what being a reporter meant. Except it didn't depend on being good at what was taught at school.

I didn't count English (language and literature) since that was like being good at eating or breathing. How would I function otherwise?

Apart from Spotlight and All the President's Men movies tend to show reporters as low-life pests, shouting nonsense as someone is bundled into a police car. The truth is less noisy and more obvious. Most newspaper and magazine articles are based on asking questions and transcribing the answers. What could be easier?

Let's elaborate. Time available is usually limited. The interviewee may be reluctant. He/she may not like you. The subject may be obscure so you begin by asking questions about a void. What then is a fruitful answer and what is mere boiler-plate? An unexpected answer may force you to change your strategy. It is highly desirable you don't reveal your ignorance. These difficulties are heightened if you're a clever-clogs like me and are interviewing a monoglot French person.

Even wholly co-operative interviews require mental agility. The unco-operative ones are more like a duel. I enjoyed interviewing and miss it now. Obviously a lifetime of interviewing is unlikely to produce a congenial social animal. VR may confirm this. The price I paid.

Why then? Because revelation is addictive. When two dim facts coalesce to become a clear new fact. The slow but rewarding way understanding develops over an hour’s chat. Because being informed is better than being uninformed.

Aahh. The blank notebook, the coffee cup pushed to one side, the tentative first question, the sign that points: Somewhere.

Share My Garden comments (see below) "You could always interview some bloggers." Then goes on to list some alarming - almost certainly tongue-in-cheek - posers.

Don't worry, I wouldn't be asking those questions. But if anyone's up for being Skype-interviewed on a mutually agreed neutral subject, and getting to read the resultant piece before it's posted, I'm willing to discuss a game-plan. Neutral doesn't mean uninteresting, by the way.

Many were non-Brits, especially Swedes. But here's my favourite Brit 

(Note: Britain includes Scotland, for those  who are puzzled)

Friday 5 June 2020

Shuffle along, please

Not true! They're old
Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Or shall I bore the pants off thee?

I have a new smartphone. Ah - the banality in those few words.

So let's not be obvious. A new smartphone is like... a visit to the psychiatrist. Amazingly that happened when I was "called up" by the RAF. I only realised it later.

Certain UK organisations exist to kill people, preferably foreigners but who’s counting. The state wanted to know if I could kill well or help others to kill. And which operative medium - the sky, the sea, the ground - suited me best. Psychiatrists are expensive so they substituted multi-choice questionnaires. And these were surprisingly subtle.

The data said I'd best serve the Queen by repairing radio equipment used in planes bombing (ie, killing) those below. I said the data was crazy. But it was right. I did repair some radios.

Smartphones have a more malign purpose. New variants are more complex than their predecessors but, to draw in fools, are said to be simpler. Youth, it seems, loves greater complexity. Old age doesn't. Piteous cries from confused septuagenarians confirm the phone manufacturers are on the ball. Cries that provide, in effect, the right multi-choice answer.

Octogenarians like me are thought to be beyond commercial consideration so I have only myself to blame. Decoding a new smartphone is like coming upon London bombed flat by foreign agencies. Certain areas look recognisable but they’re miles away. My evanescent happiness becomes a protracted whinge. My family develop an expression coeval with having a pet put down.

The phone manufacturers have done society a service. They have analysed me and rated my social utility as zero. It only remains to put me in a care home and bring on The Plague.

Tuesday 2 June 2020

Incorrigibly inanimate

Was I the most unpromising schoolboy that ever wearied the arms of cane-wielding masters? Not quite.

I lolled comfortably as Shakespeare was enacted mainly because I wasn't "being taught". Later in life I developed an interest in physics, mathematics and that orphan of the schoolroom, chemistry. But these enthusiasms owed nothing to those grindingly dull and badly expressed classes in which I cowered and sought to make myself invisible. History? A random series of dim events. Divinity (These days, comparative religion)? As risible as Grimm's Fairy Tales. Geography? Coal is mined here; don't forget it.

My problem was I didn't know what school was for. Whatever I did with my life I doubted the Don Pacifico Incident would enhance it. Nor would I be hailed by the halogens?

Why now, after all these years? Because certain schools have been opened and children, well-scrubbed, with earnest faces, ice clean tee-shirts and cumbersome shoulder bags are running eagerly towards gates that are unpleasantly reminiscent of open prisons. Questioned, they say they are glad to be back. I'm happy for them; they will make their mark in occupations that don't depend on the racketiness that is at the heart of journalism, my trade.

Most of all I recall the cruelty of the summer holidays. That an irresponsible existence should ever come to an end. That a dark tunnel was re-opening on punishment, coercion and a profound conspiracy that adults know best. That I would - yet again - be seen as unworkable material.

And again, that smell which I associate with gym shoes, then called plimsolls. Rubber is not a neutral smell, it’s sharp, even acrid. In contrast horse manure is more welcoming.  And there’s a poetic juxtaposition, if you like. Unlearned in school.