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Friday 31 December 2021

Nothing to it. Oh yeah

It still looks a bit deadly, nevertheless

I realise this will be old hat to some diabetes sufferers but it was new to me. And initially horrifying.

As a parting gift from the hospital I was handed half a dozen boxes containing 56 bubble-packed syringes (ie, two a day). An important course of an anti-clotting agent.

To be self-administered!

What? By me? Just a minute…

A nurse did the first jab as a demo. Just recently I’ve been jabbed and re-jabbed many times and this one was nothing new. Hardly felt it. Ho-hum. But the nurse returned 12 hours later to supervise my first self-jab. Distant visions of that Japanese movie devoted to seppuku (self-swording) floated through my mind. Especially since the jab target would be a flap of flesh otherwise known my belly.

Tentatively I pinched up the fold, pushed (at right-angles as ordered), saw the flesh dent, got ready to plunge. “All the way in with the needle,” said an authoritative voice. Oh, no!

Truth to tell, everything possible is done to make things easy for the amateur. One pulls a protective shield from a needle that seems finer than a hair from my head. Plunger and finger-stop fit neatly and naturally. Done correctly there is hardly any sensation, let alone pain. Afterwards, another hard push on the plunger brings up another sheath to protect the needle. And the whole course comes with several special garbage cans so that the syringes may be disposed of safely.

And the procedure does get easier. This morning I did it in the half-light.

Even so, there’s still that twinge of apprehension as the needle point approaches the unwilling flesh. And the dent is mildly shocking to watch. But I’ve done about ten jabs now and will finish the course.

Hey-ho cowardy-custard. 

Wednesday 29 December 2021

A medical diversion

We are what we eat. And we eat what we choose. Sounds simple.

But suppose our favourite dish is Beef Wellington (Fillet of beef wrapped in puff pastry round a heart of paté, served with a “double” sauce) and suppose in one microsecond we find Beef Wellington detestable. Serves us right say the veggies. But there’s more.

Suppose a whole load of savoury delights – bacon, lamb chops, ham, cod, pheasant, sausages, you name it – also become detestable in that same microsecond (0.000 001 sec). And suppose many comparatively bland staples like stone-ground bread go the same route. 

For this is no ordinary “mental” non-preference. As the previously loved food is brought close to our lips our throats contract, we are overcome with nausea, and there is no way we can admit it to our mouths, never mind swallow it.

This is a side-effect of bowel surgery. And if that were all, we might accommodate it. But it isn’t.

Our bowel has been badly treated and needs re-training for its job, the processing of food. But how can we give it food when all the above and many more (including vegetables, cake, all processed chewables, and the blandest of the bland – buttered crackers) are no longer fit for purpose?

Our relations and friends are solicitous. We dream up stuff that might be acceptable, they bring us a sample, it is sorrowfully rejected. We become desperate. An over-ripe pear, cored and quartered, goes down well, as, later, do six green grapes. But fruit isn’t entirely recommended by medical dietary experts. A cherry yoghurt is consumed but doesn’t offer the bowel much to work on.


Watch this space.

Tuesday 28 December 2021

George Clooney need not apply

This post is not for the faint-hearted. Nor for those who appreciate Austen-like prose. It seems any writing talent I’ve developed is directly linked to bowel function and the latter is presently below par.

Over Christmas I was operated for bowel cancer and throughout my four/five-day stay at Hereford County Hospital I was greatly impressed by the treatment I received. But I’m singling out one phase in particular because I suspect its praises are rarely sung.

Two nurses whose names I am withholding attended to me after I was hooked up to a phosphate drip to challenge the sluggishness of my downstream plumbing. This is not glamorous work, I assure you. All the more reason I shed some light.

My drip-feed worked – almost too well – and I found myself smeared with the noxious liquid byproducts of turning food into waste. I first wanted to lurch away from my own state but that would have betrayed my saviours.

Order replaced evil-smelling chaos, soiled linen was transferred to the Offensive Products bin, hideously crusted tiles shone again. I did my bit, marvelling at the efficiency of such pro-hygiene measures as rubber sheets, disposable chamber pots and impenetrable knickers with their inserts.

You’d have wanted to avert your eyes but someone has to do it – efficiently, swiftly and (I swear) with élan. “Cleaning up” doesn’t have the high drama of heart bypass surgery or the sombre patience of psychiatry but done expertly it evokes a special kind of heroism. They splashed, they laughed, they joshed, my two angels from India and Nigeria, and I was rendered pure again.

And grateful. And humbled.

Saturday 18 December 2021

Looking into the abyss

Typical barracks block at RAF
Changhi. For all I know it may
have contained my ceramic nemesis

When we’re ill we shrink. Make do with fewer words, fewer shows of interest and lose our ability to be surprised. We complain and thus become dull. If we’re able, we combat our malaise via original thought.

In April 1956 I flew halfway round the world. From London Heathrow to Rome, to Malta, Bahrein, Karachi, Delhi, Bombay, Bangkok and Singapore. For eight months I’d studied theoretical and practical electronics in Wiltshire; now I’d be applying this learning repairing radio equipment at RAF Seletar. In the meantime I must needs languish at a transit barracks at RAF Changhi. National service involves much languishing.

As I toyed with an execrable lunch I noticed small bowls of pills dotting the tables in the dining hall. Salt pills, I was told. To what end? Because whities (newly arrived from the UK) sweated a lot. I swallowed two, exactly twice the recommended dose I later learned.

Soon tectonic plates shifted within my gut and I was attacked by thunderous diarrhoea. After two visits to the loo I had nothing more to give but the urge still remained. At twenty-minute intervals throughout the night I visited and revisited that hateful orifice, becoming weaker and weaker. At one point I knelt before the loo hardly able to keep my torso erect. Returning to bed seemed pointless. What happened then I have no idea. Somehow I survived.

These days I don’t sleep well. Tonight, original thought beckoned. I would write a piece about trying to write verse when my verse-writing skills (never readily available) were in abeyance. Too boring, I suppose. Then I recalled my communion with the Changhi loo.  I doubt whether it’s done anything for you but I’m readier for sleep than I was an hour ago. Think of it as a purge.

Monday 13 December 2021

Lightly to the table

Everest was first climbed by two members of a huge team supported by tons of luggage and dozens of Nepalese porters. But in the thirties two experienced climbers – Shipton and Tilman – believed travelling light was the answer: just the pair of them and three porters. They didn’t try Everest but they successfully reconnoitred Nanda Devi, India’s second highest peak.

And they truly travelled light. One of them asked: would a second shirt be necessary for a multi-month expedition? Alas, the answer is lost in time.

I had S and T in mind as I prepared my bag for tomorrow’s op. I hate carrying a single superfluous item, even for a fortnight in France. One pair of trousers is enough, I say. VR disagrees. Three pairs of pants? Hmm.

The hospital suggests a dressing gown. I have a flowing unused neck-to-ankle nightshirt which I could both sleep in and wear as I sashay out to the bog. No unnecessary pyjamas! V, my singing teacher, recommended against it.

VR generously offered a new tube of toothpaste but I have opted for one half-empty. Rolled up and secured by a crocodile clip. A hand towel rather than a bath towel; it’ll quickly dry out in a notoriously hot hospital ward. Two well-worn handkerchees.

I’m including a 500 gram pack of pitted prunes for reasons other than nutrition. A Kindle (plus charger) with 160-plus book titles.

This morning’s singing lesson was a retrospective. V said she’d enjoyed teaching me and urged me to dwell on music if the pain became intolerable. Or listen to it on YouTube. I never regard my mobile as a source of music but a quick trial led me to add an unplanned item to my load – my Sony earphones. Daughter OS picks me up at 07.00.

Tuesday 7 December 2021

Me and my GIL

Am I entitled to a grandmother-in-law? For shame if not. My GIL (actually VR’s Gran) was heroic and deserves a mention in Tone Deaf.

Talk about a hard life. Her husband was a miner in the Midlands when life expectancy was short and trades unions were treated like cockroaches. Banned from the Midlands he found work in Dover where the mines ran out under the Channel. Of course he died comparatively young and Gran brought up the six kids as best she might. Then came WW2 and Dover, a vital port, was bombed and shelled relentlessly, the population taking shelter in the cliff caves. Night after night.

Gran knew how to make a little food go a long way. And to eat food many would have discarded. At her behest I ate my first (and last) pig’s tail. Mostly bone I tell ee.

Like the rest of her brood she believed I had a job that wasn’t a job. I mean, what do journalists do? She wanted to say I was la-di-dah but couldn’t quite make it stick. Like her I had a regional accent though not the same. Perhaps I wasn’t all that bad.

As the photo suggests she loved gossip and mischief. At teatime she asked me what I wanted. I deliberately chose something simple: “Melted cheese on toast.” She shrugged her shoulders. “I niver did that. You’ll ha’ to do it yersel.” She expected me to give in but I moved to the kitchen.

As I rattled the pans I heard her whispering to the others. Clearly not stuff to my advantage. I shouted out, “You told me you never used naughty words.”

“Ooh I niver.”

“Whispered, they’re still naughty.”

They weren’t naughty, of course. But she giggled as I’d wanted.

Not surprisingly, I miss her.

Saturday 27 November 2021

One of the big whys

I used to climb rocks. Badly, but never mind; for a few years it was my sport.

Why climb? It’s risky. I could have fallen - did so, twice. Or been wiped out by a detached boulder - one weighing a hundredweight just missed my head. Did I have a death wish? Not at all.

Wasn’t it scary? Sure. Wouldn’t I have been safer watching telly or – ugh! – gardening? Sleeping would have been safer still. Problem with sleeping there’s no confirmation you haven’t rolled over in bed and snuffed it. From time to time it’s nice to tell yourself: Hey, I’m alive. Climbing can help with that,

Reflect. You’re on a straight road, no other vehicles in sight, your family saloon can do 100-plus mph. You press just a little harder on the pedal. Why? The hedges whizz past. If a front tyre blew you could be upside down in a ditch, watching a tongue of flame caressing the fuel tank. Harder still. Wheee-ee!

Nah, I’ve never ever done that. Never? Chances are you’re fibbing.

Rock-climbing usually happens in marvellous rural surroundings. That’s an excuse. Sort of. But that vista could be better inspected leaning against a dry-stone wall with binoculars. Don’t kid yourself; you’re halfway up Devil’s Groove because of the height, not because sheep are grazing on the hillside..

There’s a consensus that human beings are rational. Mostly it’s true. But then a happily married man, alone in a pub, catches the eye of a woman also alone. Speculation stirs, then is suppressed. Hurray, rationality works! But sometimes speculation evolves. Irrationally? Isn’t it entirely rational that attraction between the sexes should exist?

I used to like swaggering about with 100 m of nylon rope over my shoulder. Did anyone else give a damn? Was I harming anyone?

Thursday 25 November 2021

There are upsides too

The Staff Nurse supervising the op-prep was everything a nurse should be: skilled and articulate (Neatly summarising every procedure for a Student Nurse present in the room), attentive (Agreeing she had experienced my specialised form of anaemic breathlessness when she was pregnant), a Hereford local (Who called me My Lovely without a trace of self-consciousness) and unembarrassed (When I asked her to swab my crotch rather than have me do it myself).

Also politically leftwing. I mentioned her department’s patient-registering device was bust. She shrugged: “It regularly doesn’t work. I call it Boris.”

Also willing to share professional secrets. I lay waiting for an ECG test and asked, “Are the sensors placed randomly round my torso?” She shook her head. Identified a bony protuberance in my shoulder, then fingered a string of minor protuberances counting to four. “Here’s where the first sensor goes.” 

What could have been a dull exchange of data became a lively and entertaining conversation. VR was in the waiting room; I told her, “I’ve just been handled by a terrific Staff Nurse.”

A by-now familiar voice sounded from behind. “I loved ‘handled’. It made me laugh.”

Saturday 20 November 2021

More on my anatomy

Another ailment. Another surgeon (Mr McIlroy). Another fascinating conversation. Fascinating because I’m the centre of the universe. By the end of day this schedule had been arranged:

Monday Nov 22: 11 am. Iron perfusion to rectify anaemia.

Wednesday Nov 24: 10 am, Discussion. 11 am, Pre-op prep.

Monday Nov 29: 11 am. Iron perfusion.

Tuesday Dec 14: 7.30 am. Op. Likely time in hospital, two nights.

The conversation goes:

RR: It’s remarkable. I’m 86, ready for the scrap-heap, to be left out on the street at night. Yet there’s all this. And it’s free.

McIlroy: Surgery’s a risk, you could snuff it on the table. But given your state of health the probability’s low (Cites low percentage). What’s your own estimate of your life expectation?

RR: My estimate! I’m hardly the expert.

McIlroy: It’s likely you’ll make it into your nineties.

RR (Thinks): Just a handful of years. But what the hell. I’ve gone through elderly to old. From old to very old. Now there’s a faint chance of a telegram from the Queen (Actually a standard letter; too many of her citizens are reaching three figures). And four badly spelled paragraphs in the Hereford Times.

And I’m out to the hospital car-park where VR is sitting in the Skoda, doing Free Cell on a phone. Apparently she could have come in with me; the medical staff encourages it. Must remember that.

Monday 15 November 2021

No need to shout


My email address rodrob@globalnet.co.uk is presently duff and has been for three days.

I can be reached on robinson.roderick@gmail.com

Saturday 13 November 2021

Like father, not like daughter

Clearly a case of horse love

My father didn’t approve of my cycle touring, believed it cramped the innards. Urged me to take up rowing. No chance! A cold day in Hell, etc, etc.

I didn’t expect daughter PB (professional bleeder) to share my interests: ski-ing, rock climbing, arguing with Frenchmen in their mother tongue, writing sonnets and – latterly – singing. But I was astonished at how much one of her leisure pursuits diverges from my world. Horses, for goodness sake.

Once, a horsewoman of my acquaintance offered to let me ride her mount. Refusing her was one of the most important decisions I’ve ever made. Horses are just too heavy and too slyly wayward. Saddling up would have been as suicidal as joining Boris Johnson in a two-man bob-sleigh team.

As a girl PB took riding lessons. More recently she started making monthly contributions towards a share in a race horse. And not just any old nag. This one – called Tikka, short for Matika – is stabled near Newmarket, the cradle of horsiness in England.

It’s not just viewing four legs from afar. From time to time there are champagne receptions. Chats with the jockey. And a sense of living beyond one’s means. These things I could manage. 

But not the dark side. Race horses need exercise and often there’s a free saddle going. As a retired journalist, knowing a little about lots and lots, I’m aware of the jargon. There’s trot, then canter, then… PB fills me in. “Race horses want to gallop. And, yes, it’s exhilarating.”

I’ve ridden large capacity motorbikes at speed. But they’re man-made and man-controlled. As far as I know few horses come with brakes. And there’s the snorting and the thudding of steel-tipped feet. Two minds instead of one, plus the capacity to disagree. Far better as glue.

Friday 5 November 2021

Things I can't do...

 … although with some I didn’t try all that hard.

Dancing. Despite singing lessons I’ve never mastered the physical expressions of rhythm. My excuse: in dancing the fella leads his (presumably) female partner; this seems anti-feminist.

I’d like to dance. Forty years ago, in a Roman Catholic church hall, I drank enough very cheap Scotch to shuffle round the floor with various extremely tolerant partners. And that was that.

Steering a motorbike with sidecar. To guide a two-wheel bike one simply leans into the bend. With a trike you tug on the handlebars, losing all grace. Not a form of locomotion which attracts me. Looks elderly.

Kiss women socially. So far always a disaster. All guidance welcome.

Complete a Tolkien novel. Or even open one.

Garden creatively. I’ve over-posted on this many times. Misleading quote: “A garden is a lovesome thing.” Response: “Wherein I might flex my muscles if I had any.”

Open a champagne bottle without “popping” the cork.  Though I’m not sure this is a worthwhile skill.

Tolerate lace-up shoes. Give me Velcro every time. And a narrower belly

Forgive someone. If you can remember the reason for the offence forgiveness surely becomes impossible. Unpleasantness is born out of emotion whereas forgiveness is an intellectual decision. The two don’t tie up.

Bellyache about rain. Ours is a temperate climate, for goodness sake. I have sampled extreme summers and winters in distant lands; gentle rain is a much more acceptable option.

Sentimentalise cats. Their savage ancestry is only partially hidden; they kill for fun; their poo smells something rotten.

Trim my rh little toe nail. During my youth cheapness was the only criterion for buying shoes. Hence some toes are now banana-shaped.

Drink wine costing less than £6 a bottle. Do I need to explain? 

Wednesday 27 October 2021

Measured by change?

Intelligence is quite different from knowledge. It is the ability to learn, to apply knowledge, to think abstractly. Or perhaps all three. 

IQ is a measure of intelligence, in vain in my view. Latterly IQ has - deservedly - fallen into disrepute. But might there be another approach? My suggestion is personal and incomplete. But it is simple.

Just this: an ever-present willingness to change one’s opinions, even one’s beliefs.

Obviously such opinions must be fairly serious, arrived at via internal and external argument, tested regularly over time, and of significance in our lives. Deciding never again to watch Strictly Come Dancing doesn’t count.

I was brought up in a politically Conservative family which took The Daily Mail. Almost by osmosis I absorbed typical right-wing values and held them into my teens. Joining a professional trade union (National Union of Journalists) caused me to swing left. This was a big change but the example is unpersuasive. I was right-wing as a result of close influence; it was not an active decision on my part.

Like many males (though many resist admitting it) my adolescence was tortured by my inability to “get on” with girls. One reason I left Bradford where I was born. Marriage – in London - put me on a more even keel. Much later I became pro-feminist though some women are unimpressed by what they see as only a 25% conversion.

I used to sneer at opera. Now I spend large sums of money on it. I am mildly proud of this. 

Was I ever a true-blue patriot? I can’t be sure. Certainly my preferences are international these days.

Note the qualifications. Real opinions are rarely changed lightly. But this should always be a possibility, I think. Any big changes out there?

Sunday 17 October 2021

Doing my little bit

We’re short of doctors in the UK, by which I mean GPs (general practitioners) who provide local domestic coverage throughout the country. Not surprising, really. Many GPs were from overseas and Brexit, overnight, made them unwelcome. Now the government is discovering you can’t manufacture a GP overnight.

Since GPs’ waiting rooms were an admirable location for breeding and spreading the covid virus the former face-to-face consultations were put on hold, replaced by a 10-minute phone call or, if you were lucky, a Skype/Zoom exchange. Often it took time for an appointment and those who thought the pandemic had magically ceased to be a threat started behaving nastily towards medical receptionists when they discovered attending to their ingrowing toenail wouldn’t happen tomorrow. And that a phone call didn’t cut the mustard.

I beg to differ. My medical situation has moved away from my mouth and now revolves round the state of my blood. It might be iron-poor or something worse and it’s being discussed telephonically for the moment. I was asked to stand by my mobile (much clearer than my landline) for a call from a doctor with a surname that was clearly of foreign origin.

He needed to impart a good deal of technical information which he did à toute vitesse. Luckily his vocabulary and his grasp of English syntax were a good deal better than mine even though I tend to believe I’m no slouch in these matters. When he’d finished I felt constrained to say: “The clarity you’ve brought to a complicated and contingent subject is absolutely superb. I’ve understood everything. And I hope I can say this without sounding patronising.

He laughed wryly. “Given the bashing doctors are presently getting in the media, I’ll take any kind of compliment.”

Good on yer, mate.

Monday 11 October 2021

Kaspar, the friendly fountain

Before - the conifer with over-big ideas

Now - fountains, after all, don't grow

Now here’s something unexpected for Tone Deaf – a gardening triumph! In twelve years’  blogging I’ve recorded few of those.

Note I didn’t say I was responsible. True, I did the choosing and the buying but it was Martin, my super-tough gardener, who strung it all together and made it work. Bending and lifting are not my forte these days; in fact they never were. But I’ve always been a relentless critic.

And the fact is the conifer, central feature of the Before pic, had got out of hand. Planted twenty years ago it had spread upwards and outwards, blotting out the view from the kitchen and potentially irritating the chef. Lopping off the top was misguided, made it look worse. And, to the right, the ground-cover conifer (I don’t do plant/tree names) had simply covered ground, nothing else.

Back in Kingston-upon-Thames we installed a tiny fountain in our tiny back garden.  No great spout of water, y’unnerstand, just a bubbling, tinkling sound; a beguiling comfort when late and unlamented Concord flew over our house.

This time we’ve gone a step further. A cluster of LEDs, otherwise invisible, illuminates the uprush of water, giving it a ghostly appearance at dusk. I’ll need to experiment with the camera to achieve a precise record but this will do for the moment.

I said “a gardening triumph” but I’d have to add “partial”. Among my many failures with gardening is an inability to get my head round the seasons. Fountains have only one function and that’s to provide an agreeable focus when sitting down, sipping a white burgundy that cost at least £30. But the burgundy-sipping season is past now, and true appreciation must wait until 2022.

But heck, it’s there! It works! Hedgehog or perhaps Pineapple.

Next step a snake feature.

Wednesday 6 October 2021

Minor oddities of my life

THE GEOGRAPHY master compared the size of his feet with mine then caned me because mine were bigger. A year later he asked the class, one by one, starting at the front row, how to spell “accommodate”. Because I sat near the back two-thirds of the class got it wrong before he reached me. I got it right. Reluctantly, it seemed, he shook my hand.

PAMELA, who lived in the house opposite, was the second girl I fell in love with. I was 13. Greatly daring I sent her an anonymous Valentine card. Days later we met at the bus-stop and she thanked me formally for the card. It wasn’t the reaction I’d hoped for.

I WAS 18 before I first cleaned my fingernails. Previously I hadn’t seen the point.

A MIDDLE-CLASS woman in a swanky area of Pittsburgh was eager to discuss the British royal family. Mentioned the unmarried name of the Queen Mother (Bowes-Lyon) as proof of her interest. I apologised for my ignorance, saying I was anti-Monarchist. She gasped audibly as if I’d admitted being a homosexual Marxist. Who didn’t clean his nails.

I BOUGHT a trilby, perhaps thinking it would make me look manly. Caught an indirect reflection of myself in a shop window and saw only cherubic sleaze. I may or may not have thrust the trilby into a sidewalk trash-can, I can’t be sure.

I TRIED to read Joseph Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness because he’d been born in Poland yet chose to write in English. It wasn’t sufficient justification. 

IN THE USA I ordered frog’s legs because they sounded sophisticated. The delicacy of the bones sickened me.

I HAVE a middle name, a mere four letters and not at all unusual. It made me feel ashamed and I have sought to hide it.

Friday 1 October 2021

Booze, nosh and crotchets

A celebration, just the two of us. Bizarrely it will be interrupted at lunchtime when we drive over to the Saxon Community Centre to get our booster jabs. Better than not getting them, I suppose.

Later, champagne. It’s sort of a cliché until you discover lots of people don’t actually like champagne. Somehow this adds to the pleasure. During the war Churchill swigged gallons of it and good luck to his memory. I’ve ordered his favourite, Pol Roger. Readers of Tone Deaf will know I’m not in the habit of sharing my enthusiasms with Tories. Jeffrey Archer used to serve up super-expensive Krug at his self-promotions, saying, “You know it’s Krug, don’t you?” The beast.

I don’t want VR slaving over a hot stove so we’ve ordered Curried Lobster Soup followed by Cornish Turbot and Dauphinoise Spuds, prepared and ready to shove in the oven. More gustatory elitism, but what the hell?

There will have to be music, of course. Amazingly I lack a DVD of the greatest opera ever written. (Mozart’s Figaro, in case you didn’t know). The nearest possible source is in Abergavenny, 25 miles away. That’s a fair slice of my presently full tank of hoarded fuel. Assuming the shop has it should I pay for it over the phone and have it picked up and delivered by taxi? Spending the equivalent of a single stalls seat at the Royal Opera House?*

I do have a DVD of Mozart’s Magic Flute, an opera that has become closer over the years since I now sing two of its arias. Would this seem selfish of me? Perhaps not. Six years ago I told VR I was toying with singing lessons. “Go ahead, then,” she said. She’s decisive my wife.

* Never work harder, only smarter. I streamed a 1994 performance of Figaro from YouTube. It cost us nothing.

Wednesday 22 September 2021

Time warping by menthol

On the left, this post gestating

Vicks VapoRub, well over a hundred years old, now has a new label. As with many modernised product names the marketeers have over-elaborated: two type faces plus an impressionistic cloud over the lower-case a. Floating above in a white cloud is the company logo.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not nostalgic for the past. The new jar, still blue but plastic instead of glass, is probably easier to spot on the pharmacy shelves. And that matters to the customer as well as to the manufacturer. I didn't buy our present jar. I was coughing my head off with a chronic lung irritation and daughter PB, acting as my nurse, gathered a whole range of specifics in the hope that one would reduce my explosions.

I didn't read the instructions (yes, I know you should) I did what I've always done: smeared the unguent on my chest and then inhaled. Well aware that this would not cure anything but that the powerful smell of menthol would provide the sensation of healing. A kind of searing yet helpful rush up the nostrils, taking me back to the days of my extreme youth when everyone said I was suffering from one of my regular attacks of bronchitis, except, retrospectively, VR, who says more likely it was asthma.

I was most ill when I was young – ie, during WW2. These occasions had a ritualistic quality. I was moved from my bed into my mother’s, and a fire was lit in the bedroom grate. I lay there weak, weedy and inert; wanting nothing, not even a book to read. On one occasion I was attacked by a normally fatal malady which could easily have killed me off.

Suppose that had happened. Would this post have been written, or even imagined? I’ll ponder that.

Saturday 18 September 2021

The ragged-taggle gypsy

Something new, then. Unexpected and uncharacteristic.

How about my relationship with clothes?

I’d like to say I don’t give a damn about what I wear but it’s not entirely true. I’’ve retained a casual shirt (see pic) for almost thirty years. Long sleeves, dark colours; I can wear it for weeks without laundering. The cuffs are ragged, showing the lining. Any stiffness has disappeared and it hangs on my body like a sack. My affection hinges on the fact that the inner surface of the lapels are contrastingly blue-and-white striped; they do something for my face and scraggy neck. Don’t know what.

I wasn’t sure I’d get the half-promised job in the USA in 1965 and had to be prepared for further interviews with other US publishers I’d written to. I decided to sell my Englishness in these chats and bought a speckled black/white three-piece suit from Hawkes of Savile Row in London. Bloody well cut. Though I say it myself I looked suave, even wealthy, quite unlike the real RR. As it was, I got the half-promised job so the suit was never truly tested.

Other than cheapness anonymity has been my goal. While still employed my outfits were just about formal. Retired, I lapsed joyfully into shabbiness. My trousers are either beige chinos or black jeans – the latter with tight-fitting legs concertina-ed into wrinkles. My winter shirts are single-colour fleeces, so light in texture they are utterly shapeless. The sort of clothing worn by a chronic invalid who finds getting dressed a chore. Yeah, there’s irony.

Have I become vain by striving to avoid vanity? It’s a possibility. My socks all have highly visible holes and my family constantly point this out. I am chuffed by their disapproval. I last wore a tie… do you know, I can’t remember.

Saturday 11 September 2021

Assassination two millennia ago

It’s about classical music. 

No one will read it.

If they do, they won’t comment.

On y va.

VR: There’s St Matthew Passion at the Proms tonight. BBC 4

RR: Uh-huh.

A Bach choral masterpiece, but demanding. Four hours long. Musically downbeat since Christ’s passion stops short of the Resurrection. We last saw it in Birmingham conducted by Sir Simon Rattle. Beat that. But VR rarely utters a preference and we’re two old folk alone in our four-bedroom house. We’d missed the first ten minutes but I knew how it went.

One soloist was Roderick Williams (baritone). I’m the only other baritone  called Roderick but he wasn’t the main attraction. I’m not normally an enthusiast for counter-tenors (men who sing notes usually reserved for women) but Iestyn Davies, whose first name is Welsh, sang with soul and that seemed appropriate.

The main singing part is that of The Evangelist (Stuart Jackson – tenor) who tells the familiar narrative of events preceding the Crucifixion. A role that risks monotony but not the way Jackson sang it.

The libretto was written specially for Bach by a specialist in saucy words for what Brits would call music hall and Americans vaudeville. In German of course but with sub-titles in English. But I knew all that stuff about the Last Supper and Gethsemane.

Turns out I didn’t. Time after time things were expressed differently, if only slightly. The terrible story took on a grimness and force that seemed more like a Martin Scorsese thriller. Contempt for those anonymous soccer fans who wanted Christ dead for shoddy political reasons. The story vibrated with feeling.

In fact it lasted three hours, not four. I realised the Rattle version had two intervals. We were in time for the ten o’clock news.

VR: Pretty good, eh?

RR: Pretty damn good.

Friday 10 September 2021

Adulthood: that mysterious transition

Democrats vs. GOP
Ordained at birth

Do you remember “growing up”? The Bible talks about “putting aside childish things” in assuming “man’s estate”. What exactly did we put aside and were there regrets?

Climbing trees. Yeah, I regret that. Going high to the thin branches which shivered beneath me. Weight would be a factor now.

Cutlery. Being forced to use a knife and fork instead of a spoon. English practice made things more complicated. In old age I’ve gone backwards – soup spoons for preference.

Discarding shorts. I wanted long pants badly but can’t remember why. With the RAF in Singapore shorts were mandatory, making us look silly.

Soccer in the street. Cars were fewer then but many suburban streets were unsurfaced. You fell and were abraded. Knees almost permanently bloodied.

Asexual outdoor sports. Girls joined in the rough and tumble. Suddenly this became taboo. Deep regrets on my part.

Carol singing. Titillating possibility of that rare commodity – money. And then we were said to be too old.

Sunday school. Stultifying. Couldn’t wait for this to be ruled out.

Sweets (US: candy). Even during WW2 supply for kids was maintained. Then it stopped. The specious justification: adults didn’t suck sweets out of doors.

Reading matter. From my mother’s point of view sexual references were permissible. But not physical cruelty and – especially – torture.

National (ie, military) service. Was this a measure of adulthood? But we were treated like children.

Blowing one’s nose. Shirt sleeve no longer an option. I missed this one since I’d been given hankies from the start.

Making unnecessary noise. Somehow this ceased quite naturally. It no longer offered any temptation.

Cemeteries. These ceased to be the subject of awe and speculation.

Grandparents. The first meaningful experiences of death. Less traumatic than I expected but I always was an insensitive little swine.

Thursday 2 September 2021

Ships passing in the night

The surgeon who re-arranged my jaw is Mr Hall, not Dr Hall. It’s one of those British medical peculiarities. I know his first name but have never aspired to use it. Our meetings have been on his territory where – as far as I’m concerned – he’s emperor, if not Lord God Almighty.

He had good news for me on Thursday. For the moment there were no continuing signs of malignancy and this explained why – just before he started to talk to me – a nurse slipped into the room, took a seat in front of me, and radiated a beaming smile that her covid mask failed to hide. And why not? Shared happiness can be a scarce commodity. Gather ye rosebuds while ye may.

Which isn’t to say all is done and dusted. The next check-up is in mid-November.

Any questions? he asked. I mentioned my last singing lesson. That I wasn’t yet able to open my mouth wide enough for the higher notes, as before. Should I push against the restraint? I paused, then added, “Actually, my teacher taught me how to reach those notes with a half-wide mouth.” Said it deliberately.

“The body finds ways to adapt,” he observed.

“How far did you get?” Not wanting to waste his time, but suspecting he’d want to answer.

His mother had wanted him to become a singer. He’d joined a choir. But the academic grind of a degree in dentistry plus the long hours of being a houseman had squeezed out music.

Briefly I swapped roles with him. “Eventually you’ll retire. My singing teacher said, age is not a factor, only desire matters. I started when I was eighty. These days I’m singing Schubert and Brahms.”

He nodded distantly. I was out the door. If he wants to, he will.

MEDICAL DETAIL. Mr Hall (broddling about in my mouth): When did you last eat corn-on-the-cob?

RR: Probably the Mexican takeaway at the weekend.

Mr Hall: (To nurse). Tweezers please. (Broddles some more) Aha! (Reveals the empty shell of a corn kernel trapped in my mouth for three days.)

RR: (Dubiously). I suppose I could re-eat it.

The kernel drops to the floor and is lost to further examination.

Tuesday 31 August 2021

Family Robinson goes Mex

Please note, we didn't eat the plate rack

Daughter OS prepares mise en scene

There are takeaways and there are super-takeaways. This was one of the latter.

A celebration for all the family which meant grandson Zach had to sleep in my study. He’s used to it.

Super-takeaways are characterised by their elaborate and highly individual packaging which ensures every grain of rice, every spare-rib (huge in this case) and every container of highly varied sauce arrived unharmed. The theme was Mexican but upper-middle-class Mex if that makes sense.

Why a takeaway given there are at least three Grade One cooks in the family? Simply because there was a good deal of champagne to be got through before we ate and we wanted no one scrabbling in the kitchen as the corks popped. Also, this meal was a genuine multi-course bargain: £20 a head. That wouldn’t get you very far in most decent restaurants these days. We’ d have spent more if it had been necessary but it just wasn’t.

We are a family of mixed preferences (two are veggies) and yet every container was scraped bare. The quality of the food demanded I explored the extremities of my wine cellar. Two bottles of red cost £34.50 each, but what the hell?

The last participant went to bed at 3 am. I fell asleep listening to their murmuring. Something about a strimmer, I think.

Sunday 22 August 2021

Fun is really hard to find

Dawn on another late-life day

Times are drear. I wanted to write about fun but couldn’t recall any.  Only being flogged at school, falling off my bike at speed, and being turned down by Northern girls when I asked for a date. 

Not wearing underpants until my teens should have been funnier. But the detail seemed to sicken people in the USA. Fun should be fun for everyone.

When I first stood up to speak in public my left leg fluttered uncontrollably. I wondered if the fluttering might reach the point where all support was lost and I toppled sideways. I’d written several jokes into my speech but none was visual. Toppling would be visual but should I improvise a comment?

“My next trick is impossible.”? 

But my audience were already laughing (they were well liquored-up) and I forgot about my leg.

I’m a lousy negotiator, especially when buying cars. I’ve always wanted to take things to the limit – after hours of banter – then walk away without a word. “That’ll teach him,” I’d say to myself, knowing nevertheless I was leaving behind the car of my dreams. An unexpected form of martyrdom.

I hate concerts where people clap vigorously trying to squeeze out an encore. I envisage floating over to the podium and shouting out “But would you pay for more music?” Looking down on mystified, inevitably middle-class faces.

VR has ordered me new PJs. More formal, thus enhancing my status as The Wandering Invalid. And less inclined to change into daytime clothes. I wear then opening the door to Amazon deliveries. Drivers don’t give a damn. I don’t give a damn. These are the undamned years.

Thursday 19 August 2021

I cannot heave my heart into my mouth
Quote, WS

Tending towards the left

Immediately out of the operating theatre ago my buggered-about mouth sagged wearily to the left. The expression was sinister yet ultimately rather sad. “No woman,” it seemed to say, “will ever want to kiss me again. Ever.”

Notice the vanity, the assumption that women were demanding my lips pre-op. In fact, the best I could hope for in those distant days was to be regarded as a smart-aleck. Nobody kisses smart-alecks.

Two weeks of convalescence have passed. As I carefully shaved away two days’ bristle this morning I realised the lip line had straightened but it’s still not right. The lips to the left are thin and mean. Cliché-mongers say we are more than our faces, but it’s faces that are preserved in others’ memories. Post-op I am a different RR. Should I modify my behaviour to match my new look?

The changes are comparatively small but might I have ended up in a Freak Show in the Middle Ages? Not one of the stars like The Bearded Lady or The Indiarubber Man. Perhaps the guy who sold the tickets. Or cleaned out the cages.

But here’s a question: did I look sneaky pre-op? Possibly. Now my face says there’s no doubt I do and I must live up to this new façade. The oldest apprentice pickpocket in history, say, recently liberated from sixty days’ community service. Or – more tragically and more up-to-date – a petty thief who once prised coins out of parking meters  put out of business by the swipe card.

Would the mouth go better with a suit? “Cheers folks. Just off to audition for a part in the new horror film, Barber Clippers And Blood. A prequel to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.”

Or just wear a pandemic mask out of doors?

Sunday 15 August 2021

Transworld light

I’m done with surgery here, except this: it’s left me – temporarily, I hope – with blubbery uncontrolled lips. When I drink, water spills out of either end of my mouth and I have hell’s own job pronouncing p. Which would have been bearable if our beloved Samsung fridge/freezer hadn’t abruptly lost the will to chill.

VR and daughter PB (the abbreviation is Professional Bleeder, not Phlebotomist as in the previous post) embarked on getting rid of food that might otherwise rot while I made a telephone claim on the still valid warranty. Speaking to a pert Korean woman on the other side of the world.

Even if my lips had been functioning as they ought this would have been an ordeal. A model number that ran to 13 characters and a serial number that was even longer were starters. More, I learned my own spelling vocabulary long before the present one (A for alpha, B bravo, C Charlie) came into use and I must have confused my dialoguist no end. Let’s call her Kwan.

It was an ordeal and yet it ended happily. Kwan had a lot to get through. As well as the techie fridge/freezer data there were protective Covid-19 rules for the visiting engineer. Plus telephone numbers that we both had to get right. Time after time I missed certain words (I’m getting deaf in my old age); then she’d miss some of mine. Yet she persisted as I yearned for the call to end.

But when it did end I was suffused with warmth. Her patience had totally charmed me and I thanked her sincerely. Surprised, she replied nicely in her tinkling Korean way. After, I even submitted myself to a phoned questionnaire about Samsung’s efficiency.

So there was eventual light, and darkness comprehendeth it not.

More than just smells

Slots now filled in

Chemistry was my worst subject at school. I could never remember whether the subscripts in the molecule applied to the element before or after the titchy little number. You remember, don’t you?

Little Willie was a chemist,
Now he is no more.
For what he thought was H-two oh
Was H-two S-oh four

In fact sulphuric acid.

I wasn’t much better at physics but RAF national service forced me to repair radio gear and a modicum of electronics was required for this. You will learn, they said. So I did.

Daughter PP (Professional Phlebotomist), who became a science teacher, is staying and she knows a lot of chemistry. I’ve encouraged her to chat. Did I know that water (H-two oh) is a complete freak? she asked. Why should two gases combine to create a liquid? The phenomenon is – I believe – unique in the natural world.

What’s more, we clever buggers who think we know everything cannot duplicate this process. And if you’re thinking the addition of an electrical spark might hurry things along, think again. The volatile hydrogen would explode and the oxygen would sustain the flames.

PP became dreamy and expatiated on the bits and pieces that constitute the periodic table of elements (see pic); I listened, fascinated. The symbolic expressions are so humdrum, yet the qualities differ so widely. Fitting mankind’s every need, you might say.

And there they are, all neatly laid out. Mind-bursting of all is that Mendeleyev , who made a huge contribution to the layout, left empty slots in the pattern to accommodate elements not yet discovered. Those slots will be filled, he said, and lo! They were. How about that for confidence?

More chemmy chats to come.

Thursday 12 August 2021

Two days in Worcester

Having delivered RR to the Worcester Acute,
OS photographed me striding determinedly
towards towards the front door at 07.15
(Below) Massive throat bruise not as bad as
it looked. Didn't feel nothing, honest

Monday, August 9.  05.30. Home. Wake, shave. 06.10. Daughter OS arrives in her Dacia Duster, waits in driveway (Covid regs) as I hug VR and daughter PB goodbye. Am driven to ghostly empty Worcester Acute hospital , 33.5 miles away. 

07.20. Present myself at Theatre Admissions: “I’m ten minutes early.”

08.00 approx. Various tests, including MRSA, which goes astray leading to long, long delay. Waiting in my two smocks (one on backwards, the other forwards) I begin this verse and finish it, post op, at about 06.00 the following day:

Somewhere outside these pastel-coloured walls
Drugs seep into some deep and sluggish lungs,
Bones crack, dead tissue’s scooped away,
Blood forms into a shining estuary

Hours pass as I wait on my entry to
This battlefield. Impatiently, since
Pastel colours hardly compensate
For the expected, healing, well-trained blade.

Alone and bored on my inflated seat
I ditch the phone and open up my gob
To murmur Schubert’s An die Musik.
It works! But later? After we know what?

Three teeth gone. A mort of bone. Blood lost.
I twist my face to a facsimile
Of song. The very stimulant of life.
“That magic art, I thank the world for thee.”

** Last line of lyric translated by RR.

14.00 approx. I enter the theatre and say, “So much electronics.” Wow! Imaginative!

17.00 approx. Stirring feebly in my single bedroom I am told by an unknown person. “Mr Hall (my surgeon) has phoned your wife and told her everything went according to plan.”

Tuesday, August 10. 05.00. Slept so well I rolled unconsciously on to my left (ie, operated) side; spill blood and unidentified fluid on to the pillow. Feel ashamed. Get up and revise verse. At very early breakfast time I’m asked what I’d like. With much bravado I say I could manage scrambled eggs but the cook is not yet on duty. Orange jelly and yoghurt, actually tasteless, seem delicious.

09.00. Throughout the waking morning a stream of people: the surgeon and interns, a dietician, a nurse with analgesics, then shots of antibiotics, then a plastic flask of strawberry mulch. High-spot of the early afternoon is long chat with gorgeous speech therapist. We switch from post-op food to how op might affect my singing. Not too badly.

15.00. Surgeon returns. I tell him I feel fit enough to vacate my no doubt much-wanted bed. He’s mildly surprised. “It’s only been twenty-four hours.” I spread my hands. He says, “Well OK, then.” I phone my daughter Dacia Duster driver, “See you at 19.00.”

18.30. Walk up to nearby car-park. My overnight bag is heavy with a dozen flasks of strawberry mulch. My nurse of early morning is gorgeous too, if privately giggly, comes from Zimbabwe and insists on carrying my bag. I protest vainly, “This looks like life in Rhodesia (The former colonial version of Zimbabwe.).” She says, “Can’t let you carry it, mon.”

19.00. Duster arrives and out steps unexpected passenger, VR. Mumble-lipped, I introduce her to my nurse as my mother. The final after-effects of anaesthesia

Sunday 8 August 2021

Gone, perhaps for the greater good

Nail nicely manicured

Yesterday I deleted a post I’d posted the day before. Nobody had commented but then few people do at the weekend.

The subject was ill-health and I’d been deliberately tangential in the way I’d tackled it. Avoiding answering questions most readers would probably put, then sliding away into another subject that rarely draws comments, weekend or not.

Why the deletion? I had in fact rewritten it several times, delicately walking the tight-rope I’d erected. Sitting on the couch a few hours later I decided what I’d written was puckish.  Over-puckish, to tell the truth, since I’m regularly guilty of puckishness.

Had someone commented things would have been awkward. I’d have betrayed the reader. As it was there were only five page views.

During thirteen years of blogging I have occasionally offended readers. Not intentionally but I can’t pretend I’ve been entirely innocent. I try to be original and that means taking risks. They don’t all come off. I’ve been dropped more than once.

By risks I don’t mean being rude. More often offences are the result of digging too deeply into my personal life. The offence may lie in an unintended reflection on others’ lives. A complex matter.

One writes to be read. In my former trade – journalism – the rule of thumb was: grab the reader by the lapels within the first two sentences. You can see the risks. Lapel-grabbing isn’t always welcome.

Ironically this post is not one that’s likely to draw comments. Honest responses that stick to the point and don’t veer off into more comfortable regions carry their own risks.

I’ve retained a copy of the deleted post. Despite being puckish it’s well-constructed. Perhaps a little tweak here, a hint of compression there…

Waste not, want not.

Sunday 1 August 2021

Doing without flying buttresses

There are those who say that watching France's Tour de
France on telly is hardly a cultural event. Most members of 
my family would prefer such dullards slung their hook

Holidays: Final tranche.

Must one “do” things on holiday? May one do nothing and yet remain unguilty?

Neither VR nor I are in the best of health these days. Few people are in their eighties. God knows about the nineties.

We did get about a bit but mainly as passengers. Back at the two luxurious villas we moved through the well-upholstered premises, revelling in the space and an environment that differed from our home four hours down the road. VR read and read, I experimented with a cheap tablet as a portable medium for writing my new novel, Threesome – conceivably at some future holiday, if and when.

We moved to an outdoor arbour and were served meals prepared – willingly, enthusiastically and imaginatively – by our offspring. We ate out, at least eight times. Drink was consumed but mainly by others.

No ancient churches were visited, no historical discourses initiated. These are in any case not my preferences. As in France I took every opportunity to engage the locals in conversation that sought not to be banal. It is the only one of my activities that might qualify as cultural. Writing fiction consists of merely giving in to a compulsion

Previously I have rejected the notion that time can be wasted. The mind is always at work even during the most lethargic of periods. TV news often merely skims the surface of events, yet it may act as a trigger to silent ratiocination. And the choice of obscure multi-syllabic words.

Hand on heart I can say I returned home in a mildly improved state. On holiday I had thought about serious and portentous matters. Even the structure and tone of this post. Perhaps I’m a shadow of what I was, but shadows are vital to most successful paintings.

Wednesday 28 July 2021

We cohere and we break apart

Heavier bottles on the floor

The holiday again. 

VR said several times the most important thing was that the whole close family (minus one, for explicable reasons) would be together. And so it seemed. We arrived in three cars with an enormous – almost embarrassing – amount of drink which filled all horizontal surfaces of the utility room, see pic. Well prepared, you see.

Togetherness was symbolised by an event that first evening. The English soccer team had reached the final of the European championship and even those who disdain soccer (me in particular) felt honour-bound to watch the TV coverage. We broke the house rules (“Furniture may not be moved from room to room.”) and yelled noisily at the screen from sofas. The fact that England lost – and in a belittling way – mattered less than the sense of community.

But we were three generations with different interests. Later a split-off group visited indoor climbing walls, another went to the coast for a truncated form of surfing, out of National Service nostalgia I watched training jets take off and land at RAF Valley and discovered a decommissioned nuclear power station en route. Most times we ate together but on other occasions we fragmented.

Togetherness cannot be forced. VR read enormously, others fiddled with their mobiles. Both these activities are divisive. Occasionally, even at high noon, I crept away and lay, eyes closed, on our bed meditating on various current matters. The English tend not to be chummy by nature and holidays should offer opportunities for individual self-expression.

The unexpected gets remembered. Daniel brought a very superior game of skittles called Möllki. They played and we – the ancient grandparents – watched with interest.

Both villas were comprehensively equipped but lacked a coffee-making apparatus. We bought a cafetière and all was well in the morning. A small matter but rewarding.

Sunday 25 July 2021

Nothing about the scenery

We did nothing cultural on
holiday. Although this is clearly
a church it has been modified
for other purposes. The distant
figure in red is grandson Zach.
Climbing not aspiring.

Just back from a two-week hol in Wales. One major reason: to escape England, a country I presently loathe. A temporary state of mind, I trust.

But would Wales be sufficiently foreign? After all, it’s not unfamiliar territory. The border is a mere eight miles from my house.

Holidays can be deceptive. The best way to “discover” a country is to work there, lolling tells you very little. Luckily (if not for me) an opportunity to “work” there arose on the first day. A medical condition had recently flourished and I needed help. NHS, our health service, extends to Wales but the service is embattled thanks to Covid. I desperately needed a specific drug and knew there would be delays. I had to go private, which meant paying. More particularly, Occasional Speeder, my daughter, was able to arrange this for me online.

The prescription travelled through cyberspace; to fulfil it we drove to nearby Carmarthen to a chain pharmacy. In the car park we looked for guidance. A woman, carrying a bag typical of those containing prescription drugs, stood alone addressing the world at large. Uttering the story of her life and the way it complicated her relationship with pharmaceuticals.

Yes, she knew our pharmacy. It wasn’t far. She described the route, slightly incoherently, then walked with us, continuing to tell her life story. There were complications about our prescription and while waiting we popped out to another pharmacy for palliative measures. Car-Park Lady abruptly re-appeared there too and resumed her biography.

Here was foreignness. The Welsh speak voluntarily and at length. Car-Park Lady was typical. The proprietor of our second villa was another. Almost the exact opposite of the English. We weren’t irritated, rather we were refreshed. More follows, perhaps.

Thursday 24 June 2021

A sort of IQ test


Does Covid time still drag? Try this somewhere private.

Ask yourself: Am I intelligent? Honestly.

If one discounts politician responses (“Depends on what you mean…”) there are four adult answers: (1) Yes, (2) No, (3) Don’t know, and (4) I don’t wanna play this game.

Interesting, the consequent questions to (1) and (2) are identical: Can you prove it? As far as (3) and (4) are concerned let’s show them the door. I wouldn’t drink with either, even if they were paying.

You can see where I’m going. “No” is far more fascinating than “Yes”. Yes is going to say his conversation extends to abstractions (self-centredness, parsimony, prescience, etc) and doesn’t include talking about the weather, his relations, sporting events, voting patterns or pizza preferences. And yes, you’ve noticed, I use the male pronoun. Women would simply say: “Waste of time.”

But what’s No going to say? Trouble is it takes some intelligence to know what intelligence is. Even more to conclude you haven’t got any. I think No is going to talk about limits. He’s grasped multiplication tables but falls short with topology. Could glue two pieces of wood together but would hesitate to fashion a dovetail joint.

Me? I’m prejudiced. I can’t pretend I was a great success at my trade but I fooled some people quite a lot of the time. Especially managers. (“Go on, show me. Manage something.”) What I had from September 1951 until August 1995 was a talent for doubt, an unstoppable urge to ask questions. I’m not saying this made me intelligent but it left me undefined: perhaps I was, perhaps I wasn’t. One of life’s maybes.

But seriously, folks. Try it out. Sit on the loo and ask that question of the toilet roll. There’s eloquence in a stone, WS says


Saturday 19 June 2021

Is a big fat zero really fat?

Small or big? Here's the answer

A friend recently blogged she had “nothing to say today.” More or less. I felt bound to discuss.

Don’t tell me I can’t, that it doesn’t exist. George Gershwin turns it into a thing of pride:

I got plenty of nuthin’, and nuthin’s plenty for me

Among other things, nothing is an absence and that can vary. Absence of food and I’m hungry. Absence of Donald Trump and I’m tranquil.

Is nothing microscopic or gi-normous? I think my carefully rendered drawing resolves that knotty philosophical point.

A blind man on the top of the Empire State Building looks out on God’s finest creation (Some might disagree here) and sees nothing. But what about all those flashes of imagination and laughter passing through his mind? They’re real to him. Might reality and nothing co-exist?

I read a James Paterson novel (unlikely, I assure you). Half an hour later details of the plot have been swept into the ether. A day later and I can’t be sure I read it. Two days later and I’m sure I didn’t. He happened, now he’s nothing. OK by me.

I consecutively drink a dozen different bottles of cheap sauvignon blanc. The difference in taste between them is indistinguishable. Perhaps there’s no difference. Has “difference in taste” become “nothing”?

Threesome, a novel. 5314 words

(Arthur*) had opened with an intensely detailed critique of the concert in which he sneered cruelly about the clarinetist’s inability to handle the concerto’s semi-quavers. Barbara ** sought a detour: “I understand you play the organ at St Erasmus?”

Arthur smiled fractionally. “Indeed but I wouldn’t bore you with any of that.”

Instead he bored them by slipping into his “sociable” mode…Another half-minute on how to choose a watering-can rose…

* Gladys’s “boyfriend”. ** Gladys’s mother.

Saturday 12 June 2021

The shed renewed

The gardener is no longer “the gardener”, he’s Martin, tough and competent. He agrees to re-stain the shed, last done by me over decade ago. He’s going to B&Q anyway and will buy the stain but feels he must warn me “It’ll be expensive.” I don’t ask how much. Hereford’s “expensive” is nowhere near what’s expensive in Kingston-upon-Thames, 12 miles from London, where we used to live. In Hereford people tip taxi-drivers in coins and not many of them.

Next job will be to rid the brick-laid driveway of weeds. I have a wire brush but the bristle constantly clogs with greenery. Martin’s brush has much longer bristles and he gives me a demo. An example of “Don’t work harder, work smarter.”

Also of the apopthegm, “Don’t bend if you don’t have to. In fact, don’t bend.”

Threesome, a novel. 5117 words

GLADYS arrived at the concert hall a quarter of an hour earlier than scheduled but he was there before her. Wearing his new shortie overcoat even though the mild weather hardly warranted it. It was of course more a uniform than a form of  insulation… 

As he bent to kiss her cheek he raised a hand to the side of his face, paused, then lowered it. A tic which had puzzled her until she’d accompanied him to his favoured suitings supplier and found him gazing yearningly at a shelf devoted to outdated clothing accessories: detachable shirt cuffs, foulards, sock supports and… hats. Three trilbies, one of which might have been a snap-brim fedora. And then she realised. Had men’s hats still been fashionable Arthur would have worn one. Since they weren’t he made do with a gesture that went with hats, raising a hand to sweep off the trilby preparatory to kissing a maiden.

Sunday 6 June 2021

Croeso y Gymru*

Anglesea cottage with view below

The pride of Mynydd Cerig -
the Working Men's Club comes later

We’re booked for Wales, one week on the island of Anglesey jutting out into the Irish Sea, one week in rural South Wales (Mynydd Cerig to be precise;  you did know they speak a different language there, didn’t you?). Fantastic view of mountainous Snowdonia at the former, while the latter village has a Working Men’s Club! That won’t mean much to Americans I fear, but we’re already taking bets about who will have enough moxie to enter, waving a tenner and saying (tremulously), “Drinks on the house.”. Bearing in mind the traditional Welsh song:

His lance is long but yours is longer,
Strong his sword but yours is stronger,
Strike once more and then your wronger,
At your feet lies low.

The “his” are of course the English.

For those with dull imagination there will be lava bread (made from boiled seaweed), a plethora of community choirs with tenors predominating, a philosophical male populace whose muscles were exploited by the British government while the coal-mines existed and who are now largely ignored, a rock-climbing paradise even if, now, I may only look on, and long, long unpronounceable names on the road signs

THREESOME, a novel (4196 words)

Dark wood dominated Gladys’s bedroom. The heavy wardrobe doors were ripple-framed with grooves, ridges, twists and steps. Milky glass knobs to extract the drawers. A dressing table with a delicately mounted mirror which swung too low for Gladys’s high head. And the pictures – the World’s Ten Greatest Paintings – bought in booklet form from Woolworth when that institution still functioned, the pages torn out and squeezed into meanly dimensioned frames, the subjects occasionally trimmed to fit. “But then they’re only prints,” said George (her father), as reassurance that he would have treated the original oils with greater respect.

* Long thought to be Welcome to Wales. Actually: Welcome the Wales