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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.
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Monday, 31 August 2020

"Could do better"

Subsequent to previous post, Avus asked for written examples that suggest my writing has improved during the last 60 years..

Intermittent diary, Bingley office, Bradford and District Newspapers. Aged 18 -20.

● Journalism is a badly organised business. A good deal of the day I sit in idleness, yet am often working until 10 at night. If I tell this to a non-journalist, he or she says “Ah, but you enjoy your job.”

Do I? Doesn’t anybody else like theirs?

Faults: “business” is unnecessary. “am working” is ugly. Second sentence could be reduced by half.  Ending with personal pronoun is flabby

● Calling on Mrs X for a par (ie, info for short news story) I perceived the light of triumph in her eyes. Apparently Y (the X’s bean-pole daughter) had seen me at the local cinema with M (my first ever girl-friend). Mrs X’s attitude seemed to be that she had scored a personal triumph over me. While the light was still in Mrs X’s eyes, Y came in and took up the assault. I could say nothing and had to leave the house seething with rage.

The Xs are typical Bingley Methodists and constitute a good deal of the reason why Bingley, its environs and its inhabitants, get me down. I shall always remember them by the following words of Mrs X, referring to a Methodist minister who, with an invalid wife and a speech impediment, had given his life to Methodism (I think) and had fallen ill.

Mrs X’s comment was that he (the minister) had been lying ill for some months now and while they were not getting anything out of him they were still having to pay him.

Faults. “triumph” is repeated, weakening a good anecdote.. Difficult for reader to make out what “took up the assault” means. Grates my teeth: “by the following words of”. Very windy passage: “… and constitute a good deal, etc, etc…” 

● On Weds, Thurs, Friday and Sat mornings I have been to the doctor about an enormous boil on my thigh and I have been having to make up time (ie, visiting regular news sources) afterwards. I became detached about the boil and apart from the pain I watched everything that went on. The latter three mornings I received penicillin injections, one by Leslie, two by Mitchell. Leslie slides the needle into my arm gently while M. drops it in and, if it bounces, drops it again.

Faults: Clumsy list to begin with. I’m ashamed of “have been having” - suggesting I never read what I’d written. “Detached” is poorly chosen, thus “apart from the pain” becomes vague. I am, however, quite proud of the final sentence.

Saturday, 29 August 2020

Normal, does it exist?

Once we feared The Plague, wore masks self-consciously, became irritated, then bored. Some yearn for what was normal, calling it New Normal, cheating somewhat. New normal wouldn’t be normal.

Normal has distinct meanings. The primary one (conforming to or constituting a norm, rule or principle) is presently the least relevant. Nor is the secondary meaning (free from mental disorder) exactly in the forefront of our minds. And how about: having average intelligence or development?

I’m not sure I’d want to be average at anything. Being one of the herd? I’d rather be bad at whatever it was. Table manners, for instance

I’ve been retired for twenty-five years, long enough to regard retirement as normal. This is far from the case. Retirement is freedom if not always taken up. To think or write about something (occasionally even to do something) and then to go into the bedroom and lie on top of the duvet, eyes closed. Experiencing the sun. Wasting time by most standards.

But for 44½ years I worked. Even that wasn’t truly consistent. When I was young I got up reluctantly, later I willingly rose at 06.50. To begin with I did what others told me to do, later (as editor) I dictated my own working day. Holidays varied: I ski-ed in the Alps, I snorkelled off the Brittany cost.

Writing was a continuous thread. I even wrote short stories while doing National Service. On train journeys. Gradually I improved although this process consisted mainly of being aware of what to avoid. It isn’t boastful when I say I write better than I did. Early examples still exist for comparison. I could show you.

And writing isn’t just writing, it becomes the tool of intelligence. An aid to analysis, to expression. Abnormal things. 

Thursday, 27 August 2020

Can do, might do, do do


Over the decades two people close to me have died of motor neurone disease – horrible deaths. Last night I watched a TV programme about a British scientist suffering from MND and alleviating things with advanced technology. It threw up an important observation.

The scientist spoke to another sufferer, the theoretical physicist, Stephen Hawking (Liza Simpson: “The world’s smartest man” – but it’s not that quote.). Hawking advised: “Think about the things you can do, not the things you can’t.”

In infinitely more mundane circumstances I did just that. We’ve had a birthday in the family, whose doesn’t matter. The Plague prevented physical assembly so we Skyped. Nothing new about that, we’ve family-Skyped – three times a week – for several months now.

But you can’t just say we’ll have a good chat and expect it to happen. Fatigue, grumpiness, anxiety to watch qualifying for the Hungarian GP may all undermine that aim. But more often than not someone starts a hare (A metaphorical hare, that is. I’m anti-bloodsports.) and the rest join the chase. Ysabelle and Daniel had just bought a car; they detailed their negotiations and the whole thing became hilarious.

Who’d have thought it? In fact everyone should have done. We’re a family, a group of individuals each with stories to tell. That’s a huge information base for a start. But members of families interact and that multiplies the possibilities n-fold – where n is a large number. Yes we could have got raucous on drink at some watering hole but the hell with that. Instead we created a successful social occasion with what we had.

A trivial achievement compared with the heroic scientist (Peter: The Human Cyborg. Channel 4). But we must all lead our own lives. Consider what you can do. In short, don’t be defeated  

Tuesday, 25 August 2020

New Blogger explored

 For unexplained reasons Google is replacing Old Blogger (now referred to as the Legacy Interface) with New Blogger. This will happen in September.

The differences are minimal but as an act of searing altruism I have created a new blog, Tone Deaf Renewed, (incorporating a brand-new short story) in New Blogger format and you may inspect it by clicking HERE.

A brief post covers some of my experiences.

Friday, 21 August 2020

It exists therefore it stays


Things we cannot bear to throw away always have a story attached. And the story may reveal what sort of person we are.

Here’s a can of Red Bull energy drink which was bought in France. Its slogans have more charm than if they were in English: Formule Taurine (The Bullish Recipe or, more digestibly, The Bullish “Way”) and Vivifie le corps et l’esprit (hardly needs translating). The sell-by date is July 7 2011.

Why, you will ask it, did I buy it? Well, the journey from our part of England (confusingly called The Welsh Marches) to our regular French holiday area (Languedoc) is a long one and I share the driving with younger daughter, Occasional Speeder. The French autoroutes warn about driving when tired and we decided to test a collection of energy drinks prophylactically. Excellent idea. That is, until we started tasting and quickly decided a vacuum flask of black coffee would be preferable. I don’t think we got as far as the Red Bull.

Why don’t I throw it away? Well, it’s full and still unopened. Also it was brewed in Austria and foreign stuff often costs an arm and a leg in France; I can’t bear the waste.

But nor can I handily store it. Non-alcoholic drinks (for guests, of course) are kept in the garage on racking surmounted by free-standing pyramids of cans. Red Bull’s can is narrow and would slip through the racking slots. It is also too long to form a stable element in one of the pyramids.

One may add liquor to an energy drink which seems like a double whammy: diluting the booze and undermining the energy drink’s health claims.

I can’t give it away because of the sell-by date. So it presently acts as a paperweight. Time passes.

Saturday, 15 August 2020

Dressed to climb, then and now

Sports enthusiasm may skip a generation. I rock-climbed and ski-ed, daughter Occasional Speeder watched soccer, granddaughter Ysabelle climbs and skis, much better than I did.

As to climbing I was limited to gritstone outcrops in West Yorkshire. Bella ascends specialised indoor walls and includes a bit of “bouldering” (ie, shorter, lower but often fiercer rock routes).

I climbed in the fifties, Bella does it now. The most spectacular difference between us is sartorial. Bella ties her hair into a topknot, wears things like ballet pumps on her feet, slides into a blouse that could be Lycra but isn’t, and clads her bum in what looks like rugby shorts.

I seem to have escaped from the Monty Python “Oop north” sketch. My hair is longish but only because I’ve neglected it. The fabric of my knitted pullover has coagulated into a grim mat; when I reach for a hold a gap near my belly reveals unwashed shirt. My trousers may be corduroy but who cares.

My boots are huge; “big as coal scuttles” as the local argot has it. Given that modern-day climbers can support themselves on a foothold the size and shape of a tilted teaspoon I’d be ruled out as too cumbersome. As well as age, of course. For me a foothold would be a rock ledge which could accommodate a sofa.

Bella moves upwards sinuously and continuously. I used to pause after each move. The grading system - Moderate, Difficult, Very Difficult, Severe, Very Severe, Extremely Severe - terrified me and VD (the grade not the disease) was my highest aspiration.

Why did I climb given my incompetence? From reading Victorian tomes about the Alps, often written by vicars. The shabbiness of the gear also appealed.

Saturday, 8 August 2020

I confess... sort of

It is said most male Brits would rather reveal the intimacies of their sex life than their earnings. Tone Deaf is currently shouting down an unresponsive well so perhaps I should talk cash. Sex, if I become desperate.

Note: All conversions represent relative values in the year cited.

● I started work on Monday August 19, 1951, aged 15 years and 360 days. My weekly pay (cash in a small brown envelope) was £1-10 shillings ($1.95).

● Emerging from RAF national service in 1957 my weekly pay was £5 ($6.55).

● Leaving the UK for work in the USA in late 1965 my annual pay was (I think) £1250 ($3488). In Pittsburgh it zoomed up to $6000 (£2150).

● I left the USA in 1972 when my annual pay was (nominally – I didn’t see all of it at the end; the company was slowly dying) $14,000 (£5479).

● I returned to the UK in 1972 and an annual salary of £2500 ($6388).

● Between 1972 and 1995 I worked for the same company and enjoyed progressive rises, retiring on £31,000 pa ($48,447).

● It’s at this point I become a little shy. The pension scheme I belonged to between 1972 – 1995 was generous though I, like many people still working, was ignorant of this. When it came it was – putting it genteelly – a pleasant surprise. I was unbelievably lucky, luckier still as the ‘oughties rolled on and pensions elsewhere became meaner and qualification periods grew longer. Mustn’t gloat. Our lives changed.

● Between 1995 and 1998, pensioned off, waiting for VR to retire, I wrote freelance, earning annually £12,000 ($20,394). All tax paid.

● Six years in the USA led to a Trump mini-pension: presently £3000 ($3961).

There’s more (regarding investments), but now I feel I need my undies.

Quote from VR: "I read your (ie, this) post. It was quite interesting. But what readers would really like to know is your financial situation. now."
Tis true! An unexpected and gigantic tsunami. Keep on refusing to comment on Tone Deaf and I may feel compelled to tell all.

Saturday, 1 August 2020

Where we've been: 3 (and fin)

French culture: Factoid 99. Electrically, France
 is two-pin, Britain three-pin. Converters are
 necessary. Then USBs need considering,
 My bedside table at Autignac. Down below
the digital thermometer (never used)
We’re still one day short of a week away from France, and thus not free from the possibility of infection. But if we do escape, containing our group of eight in a large villa might be one of the reasons. We spent a good deal of time there, messing about in and around the 10 m pool. The nearest we came to crowds was in the supermarkets and the mask/distancing regime there was pretty rigorous.

Why France, though? It’s near, of course. It’s a beautiful country but with many imperfections and oddities. It can seem unwelcoming but mainly towards those foreigners who go there uninformed about the culture (in the widest sense; not just museums and architecture) and – especially – about the language.

The one in the middle is daughter Professional Phlebotomist.
The other two I leave to your deductive powers
I had a familiar conversation at the local Office du Tourisme where I sought a reliable taxi service to get the others back to B├ęziers railway station to catch their TGV (train de grande vitesse). Not for the first time my grasp of French was complimented fulsomely (ie, flattering to an excessive degree). But I have a stock response to this, tailored to the way the French see things. “I can’t speak French, but I can communicate in it. My French is non-idiomatic.”

This gets their attention. They like polysyllabic words and anything that smells of a theory. However, although they seem better educated than Brits not all know the meaning of “non-idiomatic”. Naturally they’re reluctant to admit this. The tourist man let flow even more fulsomeness which included some predictable stereotypes of national bigotry. Then he paused, realising it wasn’t his job to slag off foreigners.

“Let us say, monsieur, that your French is better than my English.” And smiled charmingly.

Why France? Where else would you expect a self-regarding popinjay to go for a holiday?