● Lady Percy moves me - might she move you? CLICK TO FIND OUT
● Plus my novels, stories, verse, vulgar interests, apologies, and singing.
● Most posts are 300 words. I respond to all comments/re-comments.
● See Tone Deaf in New blogger.

Saturday 30 January 2021

Spring song

In silence. Cleverly

A beachball growing mushroom horns
Is abroad, intent on killing
All the world’s eight billion souls.
You sense a tickle in your throat.

Turning blue,

Multi-coloured and well taught in vile
Biology, malice intent,
It wafts its way and randomly
Prescribes our liquid punishment.

Cough and phlegm,
Death pro tem

Months pass and Do we? May we? see
A blessed end to breathlessness?
Not so, we are misled again;
The ball has spawned a spikier son.

Mirage seen,
No vaccine

And those with lungs serene and clear
Suspect the sneaking dark unknown
Aware of its intelligence,
Its lack of motive, Jahweh-like.

It comes. Lo!
And you go.

Were we so very bad? Every
One of us? To face this cull?
This spider’s web of plastic tubes,
This end without a sweet goodbye?

Ask yourself.
Ask yourself.

Wednesday 27 January 2021

Slow, wizened but better

Have I benefited from living to 85? Might I just as well have snuffed it at 70? In short: are there things I now do better?

Verse. This one’s easy. I didn’t write sonnets until my mid-seventies so it’s a case of nothing vs. something. However “something” is not necessarily good.

Wine. Yes, absolutely. By the simple expedient of spending more per bottle. At 70, top whack was about £12; now it’s £35-plus. Also the price of champagne no longer terrifies me.

DIY (Do-it-yourself for the sake of Rouchswalve). At 70 I tried, at 85 I don’t. Definitely an improvement.

Difficult books (Especially Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften, by Robert Musil). I read all the ones that matter between ages 60 and 75. These days I merely refer to them, casually, in passing. Much more relaxing.

Driving quickly but legally. This happens only on French motorways. I have added various relations as Named Drivers to my car insurance. Thus I drive less. Thus take fewer risks. I may even live longer.

Writing style. A subjective territory with many keen to disagree. Let’s say I now cut out whole paragraphs; once only single adjectives. Elmore Leonard would probably issue a qualified “Yes”

Mathematics. I used to wrestle with word-based definitions (eg, “is inversely proportional to”). Now I’m more familiar with the symbols. But Dirac could still be all under-water.

Shyness with women. Oh, heaps and heaps. Mainly because of the compliments I have received. Not because I’ve earned them, of course, more out of pure charity. “Say his nose is Roman. Watch his eyes brighten.”

Fruit. I eat it in tonnes (ie, metric tons). Few people say there is anything wrong with this.

Concise blog lists. Getting better by the second.

Tuesday 26 January 2021

Blowing yesterday's trumpet

It’s the eighties/nineties. A company making money from logistics wants to chat, and has invited specialised magazines to a press lunch. As editor of a logistics magazine I accept; I intend to ask questions and take photographs.

I don’t have to do this. Lazier hacks will listen with incomprehension to the set speeches, eat the lunch and drink the wine (to excess), pick up the company’s press releases with studio-perfect prints and publish them with nary a correction.

My questions will be beyond the assistant press relations manager and eventually I’ll be cloistered with the CEO. Probably he’ll find some questions difficult to answer. Back at the office I’ll write a piece that contains none of the bland, self-serving utterances of the press releases. There’ll be splashes of humour too. I’ll have made an impression. The world will open up and I’ll interview CEOs in Portland, Tokyo and Mjőllby (that’s Sweden).

To further sicken you let me add I was moderately well paid for this. After I retired the magazine faded and died. An easy life, then? Compared with coal-mining, yes. But asking significant questions depends on knowing the field. It helped that logistics (a vital tool in improving industrial efficiency) interested me. Also I enjoyed finding out how they did things elsewhere.

Asking questions is not at all like conversation. The questioner chooses the direction, changes the gears and varies the speed. CEOs get used to being interviewed and the trick is to ask them something new. That makes them think. Say the subject is a new realtime stock control software package. Just understanding what it does may test you. Being clever requires foxiness.

I couldn’t do it now. I can’t think on my feet any more. More interesting than coal mining, though.

Wednesday 20 January 2021

RR takes refuge

I didn’t watch the inauguration. I wanted affirmation I suspected I wouldn’t find at this ceremonial event. Something as far away as possible from the Orange Monster and all he represented.

Something elegiac, tranquil and contemplative, then? The knave of Ely Cathedral, Constable’s Hay Wain, Alec Guinness at his most ironic reading Sir Brian has a Battleaxe, the photo Occasional Speeder took of her parents drinking Glühwein (mit Rhum – yes, that’s how they spelled it) at Cologne Christmas market.

All just a bit too passive. But since the Monster himself was active it would have to be a different type of action: creative, unifying and stirring.

I found it on Sabine’s blog Interim Arrangements. There’s a sea-shanty festival doing the rounds which I have unforgivably ignored. Sabine is honouring it. I’m glad I didn’t miss Leave Her Johnny by The Long Johns.

You would have thought social-distancing would have killed the choir stone dead. Not so. Technology has risen to the occasion. People in distant locations get in front of their webcam-equipped computer monitors and sing solo versions of an agreed song; through electronic necromancy the voices are combined and lo! A choir! Some genius has overcome the system’s delays and damn me, it’s a good choir.

But the sea shanty makes its own contribution. It doesn’t demand hyper-trained voices and the range is usually fairly narrow. So it’s not music generated by an elite; rather a musical democracy. And there’s an unpopular word at the former White House.

The call-and-response structure of the shanty, together with its overlapping lines, generate enormous energy. Suppressing all memories of past lies and narcissism.

Perhaps there was an attempted riot. I wouldn’t know.

Tuesday 19 January 2021

Fighting off the inevitable

I'm abed, it’s still dark but I glom (Is this US verb still in use?) my light-up wristwatch. Today’s Tuesday and Julie, our formidable cleaner arrives at 8 am. VR and I need to be snugged down in our respective studies when this happens, leaving the rest of the house to Julie’s ministrations.

Last week V, my singing teacher, wasn’t able to Skype me as usual on Monday and asked if Tuesday was OK. So I found myself rehearsing the tricky bits of Weep You No More Sad Fountains (actually, they’re all tricky) to the accompaniment of Julie’s vacuum cleaner out on the landing.

Still ten minutes to go and dawn is silvering the Malverns. This is the time of day when my brain works best, when I’m least vulnerable to the troubled wakefulness that has replaced sleep in my circadian rhythms. See! It reminded me of “glom” and now of “circadian”, both five-dollar words.

As I type this I’m testing ideas for my novel, Rictangular Lenses, which I recently resumed. The passage I'm considering revolves round familiar office-work procedures. Dull, dull, you say, but any novel’s a form of life and life includes the humdrum as well as the sublime. And it’s my self-imposed task to turn the dross of telephones ringing, appointments made, and memos composed into the pure gold of a potential Nobel Prize. Well, sort of.

My day? I sing, write something original, eat a proper lunch since Tuesday is not a diet day (Black pudding sandwich with raw onion slices), read The Guardian, strive but fail to avoid dozing. Mid-afternoon the creative juices have dried up and it’s passive pap from then on. TV or a DVD and the knowledge I’m only half the geezer I was.

Ave atque vale.

Thursday 14 January 2021

WS: Sound trumpets! let our bloody colours wave! And either victory, or else a grave

Yesterday was January 13, unlucky for some. You might well expect me to discuss yesterday’s unluckee but I won’t. No siree. Something entirely different. But if you’re into symbols, mantras and cusps you may discern a faint link between yesterday’s news and today’s post. Perhaps an “appropriate” link since that adjective just recently got an unexpected work-out and I like to be fashionable.

Vegetarians and especially vegans look away now. This post is unashamedly about meat. My favourite, most flavoursome meat is brisket, hot or cold. But brisket is not appropriate to these piping times. It’s origins – for me – go way back to post-war when it was far cheaper and the days were quieter. These piping times demand something redder and rawer which cannot be simulated with tofu or minced cabbage.

Beef rib. Or in our case beef rib for two. We love it but eat it rarely. For one thing it’s fiendishly expensive. For another it’s so red, so raw is comes close to being uncivilised. Great big boomerang-shaped bones give it bulk.

Searing. Nine's as far as the hob goes 

First we sear it since that seals in the flavour. Then it’s roasted infernally at 15 minutes per pound and – Lordy – we’d got over 5 lb. You may infer that this leaves it far from “well done” and you’d be right. I know this shocks some people but for them there’s always Spam.

VR invokes Dick III's last moments 

When it comes to cutting beef rib forget the concept of slicing. It gets hacked and not in a computereque way; the chopping board looks like the Somme. Chewing tends to be noisy. Some new potatoes dolloped in butter and that’s about it.

You expect me to apologise? As I said, we eat it rarely.

Only when it seems to fit the occasion.

Sunday 10 January 2021

Perhaps the answer is 85

I’m eighty-five, have been for five months. Struggling against insomnia at 03.30 I sensed a symmetry about 85. Clarity descended, I understood my life and the events surrounding it. I had made five or six important decisions during those years and all had turned out well. I had been quickly drawn to VR and we had married precipitately; two procreative acts in the mid-sixties had led to the foundations of a family and I saw all its members in their sharp individuality.

In a wider sense I recognised that Trump was (is?) horrid but perfectly understandable. That the pandemic is merely the continuation of mankind’s constant attempts to come to terms with natural forces. The previous evening I’d watched a Parisian TV series and relished its Frenchness. We polished off a 30-year-old sherry and I recalled – smugly – I’d been explicit about its attractions in an email.

Understanding oneself – as opposed to recreating memories without trying to interpret them – is a rare gift and quickly fades. Bad things must also be included. I’d been chatting and needed to refer to a builder’s skip; I could see the skip but couldn’t recall the word. Tip? Pit? Was that a cold chill or a fatalistic admission that at 85 such glitches are likely? I hope the latter.

Learning to sing touched on aspects of my make-up I didn’t know existed. I have deliberately sought out difficult books and forced myself to write intelligently about them. My perceptions about language have resembled a dialogue with a twin conjoined at the hip. Most of my progress has been self-driven and has not depended on formal education. I am regularly insensitive to others’ feelings. I find it hard to believe I may be loved.

Life is more fun than I tend to let on.

Thursday 7 January 2021

Brief candle

Senator Mitch McConnell – now reduced from majority to minority leader of the US Senate – is a hard right Republican whose manoeuvrings in government over the past four years have helped Donald Trump get many of his wicked ways. 

Senator McConnell is not my cup of tea. And yet here I am, having risen from my bed which wasn’t encouraging sleep, and transcribing a passage from a speech he gave in the Senate when the riots were over and when the Senate resumed its task of counting the electoral college votes, more normally a semi-ceremonial event.

Why? Because McConnell summarised – concisely and, it must be admitted, without emotion – the full horror of what the former TV star had tried to do earlier in the day.

“If this election were overturned by mere allegation from the losing side our democracy would enter a death spiral. We’d never see the whole nation accept an election again. Every four years would be a scramble for power at any cost. The electoral college…. would cease to exist, leaving many of our states with no real say in choosing a president.

“The effects would go even beyond the election. Self-government requires a shared commitment to the truth and a shared respect…”

I don’t like Senator McConnell any more now than I did yesterday. He’s a hard man to like. But for a minute or two he hit the nail on the head.

Tuesday 5 January 2021

Did we lock those gates ourselves?

Full lockdown in the UK starts today so we’re back to the dark days of March last year.

But with major differences. Today the infection rates and the death figures are far worse than they were then, and will worsen when the time-lagged statistics include those who flouted the rules at Christmas and New Year.

And yes, I’m aware the vaccines have arrived

Early last year we were under the cosh but there was a sense of communal purpose. For one thing the NHS was struggling to come to terms with this new menace and NHS employees were dying in their droves. (Many with names that suggested they were not born in the UK; a slap in the face for those who supported Brexit on an anti-immigration basis).

At a set time we emerged on our door-steps and solemnly clapped those whose sense of duty had taken them into oblivion. I’m not sure this will happen again.

Politicians desperate to avoid making unpleasant but necessary decisions have blurred that sense of unity. More people have ignored guidance with predictable results and the medical aftermath from those who joined their relations during the festive season is yet to be gauged.

Yes, the vaccines will save lives but this will take time. During which maskless, unjabbed people will assemble in amorphous and vulnerable blobs, fair game for that oh-so-clever virus. Blobs often with the best of motives, like those hugging each other after the Assange extradition decision.

Flirting with and/or committing suicide are personal decisions. Imposing that related death on others is not. In the USA, I believe, such an assault is called “wilful homicide”.

And then there are those – grabbing at the latest conspiracy theory – who will refuse their jabs. Human beings are so damn complicated.