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Thursday 26 November 2020

Thy wish, Harry, was father to the thought

Tangible events are rarer in old age. We contemplate, we wait for the unspoken, we doze. If action filled our earlier years we may be forced to find quieter alternatives later on. Are we adaptable enough for this?

How about: thinking? In youth, thought seemed as natural as breathing, hardly worth thinking about. A jeu de mots! Are we on our way? Not really.

Purposeful thinking is hard. Quite distinct from daydreaming. It requires a subject. With possibilities. With blank spots not yet filled in. Marked out in logical steps.

Let the subject be: thinking! A good choice, offering infinite possibilities. But should we first define thought? That is, apply our mind to it, not Google it. Immediately difficulties are apparent. Thought seems to be a dynamic sequence. But of what? Images? Spoken words? Written words? Music? Mathematical statements? All these things and more?

Obviously, thought – with all its implications – is too enormous for a retired journalist (A shallow profession in many people’s view.) who has reluctantly put aside ski-ing and long-distance swimming. Understanding thought may be enough.

We lurch forward. We think to arrive at a conclusion – ie, information that may benefit us. Ironically the conclusion must come first, it is the target we aim at. With the bow, arrow and force applied to the bowstring. What might the first step be? A forest of signposts arise. Let’s choose To History. Have I ever thought successfully?

I have. I read a book so vivid, so comprehensive, so important I felt honour-bound to arrive at its essence and to convey this to others. My debt to the author. The book’s essence was not stated; articulating it was up to me. Hard abstract work conducted in the vault of my mind.

Today, I faced my next blog post.

Thursday 19 November 2020

Paradise for non-believers

As I suggested recently you need to pre-qualify for an essentially Christian heaven, an exam many would fail. But suppose a secular heaven for non-believers was launched. Would that attract my custom?

Via much lateral thinking and billions spent on a time warp machine. I may volunteer for the planning phase.

Mozart’s clarinet concerto is the 622nd work he composed, very close to the last. The first/second LP I bought and not even stereo. Not as famous as The Marriage of Figaro or the Haydn Tribute quartets but I know in my tripes it’s a masterpiece. Its opening theme is part of my backbone, proof of what music can do to me and for me.

Suppose Secular Heaven allowed me to watch Wolfgang compose it. Or Rembrandt paint a self-portrait. Or James Joyce write you-know-what. To be there at the creation. Just as an observer, you understand. It would ease the sting of leaving my four-bedroom, detached residence with integral garage for the last time.

Previously I mentioned controlling the narrative of half-awake dreams. Perhaps I was over-precise, more a case of willing the next stage. Whatever, it is a seductive experience. Mechanising it for greater sensitivity would be a great Secular Heaven project.

Overhearing discussions by Doctor Johnson and Isaac Newton. Swimming the Hellespont with Byron. Watching Neanderthal Man create the flame that would make mammoth steak more digestible. Discovering why Orson Welles’ directorial genius is only manifest in Citizen Kane, A Touch of Evil and part of The Magnificent Ambersons and how self-destructiveness took over. I could go on. And so could you.

Heaven – secular or Christian – should be a place of wonder. For me it should also be based on inarguable truth. I suppose oblivion is truthful; no one can argue about nothing.

Monday 16 November 2020

For those without a reservation

Heaven is only for Christians, non-believers need not apply. Fair enough, it’s a Christian concept. But here’s why.

VR’s brother-in-law, Mike, dying of lung cancer was philosophical. He expected no after-life but admitted he would be content sitting on a cloud, reading, sipping eternally replenished red wine, and being endlessly served cheese-and-pickled-onion sandwiches. I wasn’t able to tell him this was unrealistic.

Pickled onions are powerfully flavoured; the normal human palate would baulk after three. Being able to eat them continuously would require a modified physiology. Thus the contented cloud-sitter would not be Mike as he knew himself. Proof that heaven – which in any case he didn’t believe in – was not for him.

And Christian heaven, as traditionally described, would demand a great deal of personal modification from earthly life as we know it. Anyone for harp-tuning? Christians are presumably OK with this.

But suppose secular heaven existed and I qualified (unlikely, I know). What could I expect? Sitting at a keyboard, rattling off a best-seller with intellectual appeal? That would simply be copy-typing. No uncertainties, stresses or hard-won delights typical of novel writing. Heaven doesn’t deal in uncertainty and stress.

Might I sing Du bist die Ruh like Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau? Uh-huh; it’s the struggle which counts. Heaven dwellers would expect daily perfection plus uninterrupted delivery of The Guardian. Make that The Daily Telegraph.

Even the most placid Earth-dweller struggles. Bad things help make us appreciate good things. My heavens here are fantasies; none, I am told, may comprehend the mind of heaven’s landlord, God. Faith is a given but I prefer Ohm’s Law. The proof is duplicatable.

But could I risk hubris and devise a secular heaven? See my next post.

Thursday 12 November 2020

Dreams - here's my repertoire

Mick's David, without the comparison

Two or three times a year I dream of appearing naked in public. I am of course not alone in this, many men share the experience. Freud relates it to a sense of futility. It’s not as bad as it sounds. The passers-by are not shocked by my nudity, they’re indifferent. Coarser readers of Tone Deaf will suggest this is inevitable, sensing my tackle is probably unimpressive. For a long time this was my opinion too and I was only reassured when I saw a photograph of Michelangelo’s David; proportionately, in that department, we could be twins. Except for the marble.

As I say, things could be worse. Throughout the dream I’m able to persuade myself I am “getting away” with being unclothed. However this is not the case with another recurrent dream wherein I walk bare-footed on sidewalks coated with… I leave you to guess. No comfort from Freud, the roots are sexual of course. Awake and fearful, I try to imagine what it is I’ve been suppressing.

Much rarer, alas, are dreams in which I have a theoretical – never physical – relationship with one of the objects of my passion during fevered adolescence. These are pleasant enough but are spoilt by an adult desire to behave as a critic. The blurred views, the unnatural warmth of the atmosphere, the melodramatic nearness as a hand reaches out but never touches – overdone scenes, reminiscent of movies directed by Douglas Sirk (All That Heaven Allows, Magnificent Obsession, Imitation of Life).

The best dreams are those when I’m only half asleep and may exercise control over what is happening. My French is perfect and I knock over bullies with artistic sweeps of my fist. I suspect the backgrounds are transported directly from New Zealand. Chilled fizzy water is essential when I emerge. 

Sunday 8 November 2020

A condign end?

Yes, I felt a huge gush of relief but I'm a retired hack. Was there something else that might be said?

I reflected on all the traditions and gentlemen's agreements Orange Man has ignored or broken (refusing to release his accounts, hurrying through the the supreme court appointment, using the White House for his campaigns, etc, etc).

Well there's another tradition coming up: OM being allowed to loll in the White House for another ten weeks. Why not send in a couple of cops with instructions to show him the back door and to hand over a pre-paid voucher for some hotel out on the Beltway?

With this explanation. Biden urgently needs the space to meet his number one priority: creating the beginnings of an active solution to Covid. The country cannot afford to wait ten weeks on this; another hundred-thousand citizens could die in the interim. By going quietly Trump would be making his own - admittedly reluctant - contribution to preventing this needless waste of life.

Nothing in his life, it was said, became him so much as his departure from it. Thanks Will.

Saturday 7 November 2020

View from the east (where the sun rises)

I confess, it’s been impossible to break away from the computer. I have gorged on men in suits telling me about Maricopa County, asked VR to define a run-off and risked colour-blindness (one eye blue, the other red). Here’s what I’ve learned.

It’s amusing that the UK is ahead of the USA in time. That, fully awake, I could conceive, draft, correct and reveal a post while the USA slumbered. And that the USA could never catch up however superior its non-stick frying pans. That there would always be a five-hour dawn gap between backward, tractor-dominated Hereford and vibrant, drug-charged New York.

But you wouldn’t know this from YouTube. The men in suits appear never to sleep, never to take off their make-up. And the chat-show hosts crack one-liners – seemingly – at 3 am, the time many people just give up the ghost and die.

Are you aware of the crime of sedition (Conduct or speech inciting people to rebel against the authority of a state or monarch.)? Traditionally practised by ragged-trousered, bottom-feeders with Das Kapital in their back pocket. In the USA things are different; one inciter wears a recently-changed white shirt with cuffs just so, and may not even yet shave. He just happens to be the son-in-law of the guy who is nominally in charge.

I once watched a televised US football match between the Green Bay Packers and the Dallas Cowboys. Green Bay is in Wisconsin (almost in Canada) and the temperature was -17 F. Several GB fans out of suicidal bravado were stripped to the waist. It comes as a surprise that such people also vote but they do. Perhaps with prosthetic fingers.

Yeah, seriousness is happening and things seem brighter. But you know all that. I’m still with you but differently.

FLASH ! People are letting off fireworks in sleepy, backward, isolated Hereford. A very expensive bottle of Chablis awaits. Thanks America, for doing the decent thing.

Thursday 5 November 2020

Not the happiest, gladdest days

For the first five or six years of my life I suffered from a strangely repetitive illness. Twice a year my breathing apparatus tightened up, my temperature soared, my sleep was dominated by jagged abstract patterns of colour and waves of screaming sound. These attacks lasted five days. I was told it was bronchitis; VR, who is a state-registered nurse, says asthma seems more likely.

Medical officers used to visit primary schools and examine the kids, mother in attendance. One listened carefully to my symptoms and prescribed cod liver oil. This was long before capsules. I had to take it in teaspoonfuls and it was the horridest taste I have ever experienced (I still shudder at the memory, seventy-five years ago). The bronchitis/asthma immediately disappeared and no one ever believes this story. But why should I lie?

The illness had an always-repeated pattern. Tiny hints of that pattern - but without the terrible physical symptoms - echo faintly as I try to follow the aftermath of the US presidential elections.

Bet you don't believe that, either. I'm not sure I do.

Sunday 1 November 2020

The other US: Say it ain't so, Joe

 Why the US must be saved from the abyss - a personal view

☼ The moon was but a chin of gold
A night or two ago,
And now she turns her perfect face
Upon the world below.
– Emily Dickinson

☼ Basket catch at Forbes Field by Roberto Clemente

☼ Joyce DiDonato: mezzo in excelsis, teacher, wit

☼ Zinfandel, once a house red, now something grander.

☼ Andrew Cuomo, NY governor. For political honesty

☼ But how strange, the change
From major to minor.
– Cole Porter

☼ Sublime sleaze of the Larry Sanders Show

☼ FDR - a traitor to his class. How bloody ironic.

☼ Wynton Marsalis (tpt): Telemann to bop.

☼ Fall.

☼ …Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone, he told me, just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you've had. – The Great Gatsby.

☼ Two martinis, a lobster, bottle of “California Chablis”, a plastic apron. Klein’s restaurant, Pittsburgh.

☼ Jewish Y, Pittsburgh: Classical music’s stars for peanuts.

☼ By Continental Trailways the length of Pennsylvania to a new job.

☼ Leonard Bernstein on Melody.

☼ Groundhog in our garden.

☼ Gore Vidal vs. William Buckley Jnr on TV

☼ Weight of the NY Times, Sunday edition.

☼ Mount Lebanon’s public library.

☼ How long it would take to spend Citizen Kane’s wealth

☼ Simone Biles defying gravity

☼ Never open a book with weather. First of Elmore Leonard’s Ten Rules for Good Writing.

☼ Cardinal in our garden

☼ To create out of the materials of the human spirit something which did not exist before. Faulkner

☼ Air conditioning.

☼ Star of The Wire – Baltimore!

☼  I was raised to be charming, not sincere. Stephen Sondheim

☼ Snapper soup before it was politically incorrect. With sherry.

☼ Rarity of filling stations among the redwoods

☼ Paradoxical disappointment of Niagara Falls

☼ Stopping grounders with my own glove.

☼ Willingness of youngish, corn-fed woman to kiss me. Socially, of course.

☼ Price of gas.

☼ How easy it was to pass the driving test.

☼ When Obama was elected: the glow.

☼ For fun at the diner: name the states, name the state capitals

☼ In the 1980s, discovering the north-west wines.

☼ There will be no whitewash at the White House. Little did he know (tee-hee). But – and it was a big but – he invited the Ellington band to play there and clearly enjoyed them.

☼ Undefined sadness as the radio antenna of the SS France, travelling east, seemed almost to scrape the underside of the Verrazano Narrows bridge.

☼  Exhuming all these memories – and more – via blogging.