● 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.

Tuesday 30 March 2021

In sweet music is such art:
killing care and grief of heart

An earlier - abortive - attempt to link our home
to the online version of the film festival
involved this dongle-ish device. Don't you
agree it sort of resembles a poisonous snake?

In old age small difficulties get bigger. I drop a spoon while drying-up and curse inordinately. I wear my downstairs glasses upstairs in my study and am irritated. I forget The Guardian voucher and must, in effect, buy the newspaper twice. Also I am left scarred by techno preparation for watching the Borderlines Film Festival online at home. Instead of in village halls, as previously.

More scarred than I imagined. On Monday I’m waiting at my computer for my Skyped singing lesson to start and my stomach churns. I’m scared, as if I were about to face an audience. Worse, I cannot believe music will comfort me.

Betrayed by my body, my mind and my experiences. For more than five years I have progressed as a singer, exhilarated by creating music, triumphant at managing this most difficult art in my eighties. Proof I can adapt. Yet now…

For at least half an hour I bombard V, my teacher, with my doubts. Not a note is sung. V lives alone and has her own problems but she’s dealt with this kind of thing. She listens and talks, but no word of conventional sympathy; nothing futile like “It will be all right”.

The warm-up no longer consists of repeated scales. Instead, six-note songs, often in a minor key, which V improvises and I copy. Some so lovely they ought to be recorded. Then we’re back to a 2018 lesson and Purcell’s glorious EVENING HYMN. Simple sounding, and difficult as hell. But I’ve always embraced it. And V knows it will embrace me. 

Hallelujahs ring out. V’s dog, Floss, barks to join in and we laugh about that afterwards. I am calmed and strengthened by:

Now. Now that the sun has veiled his light
And bid the world good night... 

And comforted

Thursday 25 March 2021

On scribble

Verse for looking back on the pandemic

Again, again, slow-flowing afternoons,
The sun a drug, the Morris coffee mug
At risk between my cumbrous finger-tips:
I dare not break it now, so late in life.

The Gard(y)an strewn, both front and back,
Absorbed, as on a soporific tide
I’m eased towards the shallow bays of sleep,
Wherein I’ll wake and reckon I’m seduced.

But earlier that day a different world,
A conflict of familiarity,
L’s novel which I felt I had to write,
Concerns a woman with a tale to tell.

Those gristle words, I’ve chewed them endlessly,
They may have lost all juice they ever had,
All novelty, all chance of dark surprise,
Chanting a dirge of dull uncertainty.

And yet, and yet, L is my gift, my love,
She strives as I strive for some clarity, 
Too strong, too quick to simply fade away,
Too permanent within my hollow skull.

Outside there’s Plague but I am armoured now,
And I may doze or write a line of prose
Or find a rhyme as lo! I find I’ve done,
Or, evening time, pour out some pricey booze.

I’m lucky, and that’s not always the case
With age, more like a vacancy.
But I have sunned and worked this word machine
And passed some time in staying – well! – alive.

Sunday 21 March 2021

Someone else can fill in the blanks

On Friday we had our second jab. The next day our will drafts arrived for final approval. The former prolonging life, the latter a clear-sighted reminder that lives don’t last for ever.

The previous wills were more than twenty years old; in the interim a grandchild had been born. You gotta adjust. Not least to the march of technology and to the pandemic.

The solicitor offered us preliminary communication by Zoom. I’m a Skype man but it had to be Zoom. VR’s hearing isn’t what it was and so I bought more powerful loudspeakers and a webcam to go with her laptop. Neither worked as they should and the solicitor improvised by combining his mobile with his computer. An agreeable youngish guy with one of those jaw-outline beards.

Resolving the laptop problem involved a re-set; the equivalent of removing a human brain and re-shaping it to fit. It worked and I’m as proud of that as anything during Covid-19.

Wills remind us that one will die before the other. And that this isn’t a time for euphemism. We’ll die, not “pass on” nor “be translated into glory”. And since death – for us – consists of a full stop (US: period) followed by an infinity of empty pages there’ll be no “loved one” smiling down approvingly. During these final months the trick seems to be to live in the present; to summarise or reconstruct the past but without emotion. Did we use the time well? More important: did we discover things?

VR and I argue agreeably about funeral music. I did favour the great trio from Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte; now I lean towards Janet Baker singing Brahms’ Alto Rhapsody except it’s 13 minutes long and might people fidget? But it’s the last one standing who gets to choose. Conflagration is cheaper.

Friday 19 March 2021

Trying not to be obvious

 I continue to play the sage. Saying new things (if possible) in a new way. 

Why? Because unthinking worn phrases and tired greetings risk being ignored

We have a celebration coming up. The family will foregather on Skype, the ultimate form of social distancing. “But it’s not the same as giving someone a hug,” people whinge. No, but you learn things.

Patience, for instance. If conversations overlap nobody hears what’s said. You wait your turn and – mayhap – you refine what you have to say. Drop the clich├ęs; incline towards the truth.

There may be eight of us. Waiting, one has ample time to watch faces known all their lives. Our elder daughter, aged three, wearing a blue cardigan (a garment that seems to recur in our dilapidated photo albums) and waving a pickled egg pierced by a table-fork. Younger daughter weeping copious tears for no good reason; it was a period she was passing through.

Now they’re pushing middle age. They know about money, are outspoken about politics, have musical tastes that are alien to me. Both desperate for France in July, fearing it won’t happen, joking about alternatives in the UK (“Lincolnshire would be peaceful but it’s oh so flat.”)

Families break up into mini-island families. It’s to be applauded. The parents have done their bit – it’s to be hoped – and must fade into oblivion. The mini-islands are now real islands, integrated and self-supporting; the parents staring at faces that appear mysteriously to have grown up.

With luck nostalgia will be kept at bay. It’s a disease, an abnegation of the future. The golden eras are all in the present, a revelling in the power of thought and an ability to time travel without stirring. Future Skypes will be “smellies”; see Aldous Huxley.

Wednesday 17 March 2021

It's more than a herb

One reason why life's indistinct.
Below: Once they were slip-on
casuals, now kind of depraved

I intend to become a sage.

My hair (uncut since late summer) fits this new role as does wearing shoes past their prime and my refusal to change into cleaner clothes.

You protest! Being a sage demands wisdom, deep wells of knowledge, sympathy for others and an air of tranquillity. My blog is immediate proof I lack all these qualities and more. Too true.

But sages are best known for saying things which appear in dictionaries of quotations centuries later. Aphorisms, apophthegms, “sayings” in fact. I thought I’d take that route.

Forget wisdom, aim to be quotable. Say things others aren’t saying. And what better opportunity than during a pandemic?

What are people saying about covid-19? The usual stuff. That they’re bored, afraid, lonely, frustrated, condemnatory of politicians, unable to cope with life, hating those who form crowds and go drinking, worrying ceaselessly about TV “repeats”.

Some might be fibbing. If there were no covid-19 and it simply rained for a few days would they behave differently? Might many people – especially those who are retired like the Robinsons – be unwilling to admit that covid-19 wasn’t affecting them half as much as they belly-ached? And were ashamed about this?

Saying one: Covid’s like normal but with more TV coverage.

Through the windows we watch the movements of our neighbours. What’s going on in their noggins? What are their motives?

Saying two: Covid’s DIY psychoanalysis. Happily cheaper.

The incidence of covid death among Trump-believers must surely be higher than among normal folk. Yet they remain fearless

Saying three: Trump’s 2024 campaign will feature suicide-bombers.

London’s a great place to live but it costs a lot. And not just in cash terms. Togetherness could kill you.

Saying four: Typical Londoner: Watch the wimps moving to the ‘burbs.

Sunday 14 March 2021

The still, small (self-centred) voice

This is called special pleading. Whereby an undeserving minority claims its concerns are more important than most people realise. Novel writers for instance.

I have spare time. Why don’t I write a novel? It so happens I’ve been writing one for several years. My fifth, now up to 56,000 words. One page of a printed novel carries 368 words, about 152 pages. Long past the point where a reader might say, I’m gonna junk that.

Lindsay, my heroine, has progressed, is now wealthy and carries great authority. She is single and unattached. In the next 40,000 unwritten words unpleasant things are going to happen from which she will emerge, changed. Sounds simple. But novels aren’t just facts. Detail must be converted into drama to grab the reader’s interest. Raw material needs animating.

Lindsay meets Amber whom she doesn’t like. Amber’s situation is greatly changed. The two women talk. Uh-uh, not so promising. Describe their clothing? Nah, that’s passive. Resurrect their relationship? Let’s hope the story has already done that. They have an argument? Getting warmer. They suppress having an argument? Warmer still. In suppressing the argument one of them lets slip a secret? Aha! Their regard for each other alters and the reader – remember him/her? –wonders what may happen next. Bingo!

That’s the creative process much simplified. Turning facts into matters of interest. Again, it sounds simple. Alas, it ain’t. Lindsay and Amber have met before; somehow this meeting must differ from all other meetings. Turn on the Creative tap and it hisses drily. Discouraged by the unchanging pandemic.

Yes, I can string words together. But will anyone want to read them? The $64,000 question. 

Call The Samaritans? Help, I’m finding novel writing terribly difficult. Relax! Watch Pointless.

Thursday 11 March 2021

A cheap roof over my head

A distinctly "non-urban" Youth Hostel.
Black Sail in Cumbria

In my mid-teens I toured Britain, sometimes with friends, sometimes alone, sometimes by bike, sometimes by cocking my thumb. I stayed in Youth Hostels, sleeping in communal dormitories, often cooking my own evening meal. Almost always sausages, after a kindly woman suggested I covered the frying pan with a plate, intensifying the flavour.

Youth Hostels were cheap and “healthy”. I had expected remote places, washing in cold water with industrial soap. In fact many hostels were urban, the most paradoxical being Hoxton, then a slum in east London. 

The most exotic was in the very centre of Winchester, a converted water mill with the mill-race still active, constricting the whole of the river into a narrow stone-lined gully where it roared through at speed. For entertainment someone had dangled the seat of a wooden kitchen chair on which it was possible to “surf” for a few breathless moments before tumbling into the river and being drawn into calmer water downstream.

I had to have a go. Put on my cozzie, surfed for two seconds, fell into the water and allowed myself to drift rather further than I should. Returned to the hostel through city streets, barefooted, under-clothed and drenched.

Once, in a Midlands village hostel I was the only resident. Hostel users were expected to perform some domestic task during their stay. I swept the area round my bed, leaving acres of dusty floor untouched. That was only fair, I told myself.

These days a hotel room without an en suite loo would be unthinkable. Then, one shuffled quietly out of the dormitory, down a corridor, even downstairs.  

At one hostel two US girls at breakfast spread marmalade on their fried bacon. Years later I discovered that the USA was even more curious than that.

Saturday 6 March 2021

The Garden of un-Eden

Among other things the prunus blots
out sight of the street lamp. (Below) Men
of the soil are forgetful and prefer pictures

The prunus has figured in Tone Deaf before, but never so gloriously. It occupies a unique position in the arboreal world.

It is no secret I loathe digging, raking, mulching, pruning, dibbing, dead-heading, terracotta-ring, potting-up and/or bedding-down. On retirement we spent a year looking for a new house; a major proviso being that the garden had to be large enough for two people in upright chairs to share a chilled bottle of white burgundy…  with space for nothing more.

The fact that our current four-bedroom-detached-with-integral-garage residence came at such an unbelievably low price was the only reason why we acquired a garden four times bigger than specified above. Today I trekked to another part of the estate with the above Garden Plan to tempt yet another gardener. Over twenty-odd years much moolah has been spent on descendants of Old Adam, willing to break their backs on our behalf, digging down through a foot of earth into a mile of builder’s rubble.

But I have had my gardening moments. One problem of living cheek by jowl with someone for sixty years is finding something suitable and novel for a birthday present. Way, way back VR suggested her own prezzie: a tree! Off we went to the tree supermarket and chose the aforementioned prunus, then a mere sapling. Apart from supplying the cash I also did the planting. Prized up a paving-stone in the patio, dug a hole, shoved it in.

Perhaps my main antipathy towards horticultural and related matters is that I have no faith that anything will ensue. But the prunus proved me wrong. It has flourished, as you see, as has the sentiment that went with it. But taking hold of a spade still makes me shudder.

Tuesday 2 March 2021

It could be your best friend

Ox (above), water buffalo (below). But
don't take my word. Use your dicker!

Skimming through someone’s words I noticed: An ox is not a water buffalo.

Ox (more particularly its plural: oxen) goes a long way back with me. I first sang "Once in Royal David's city" in primary school. The carol, popular in the UK, includes the line "… with the oxen standing by..."

This made me think. My English vocabulary, like most other people's, consists of words which


Take "frying pan"? There's no need, is there? A frying pan is self-evident. Quite different from "hermeneutics" which I have looked up at least half a dozen times and promptly forgotten.

There are other words I’ve looked up, less well-known than "frying pan" but not exactly obscure. A teacher asked students what “democracy” meant. Most could only come up with "regular elections". But would I have done any better? It turned out there was a lot I'd forgotten. Much worse, there was a lot I'd never known.

But where to start rectifying this? Unverified words form most of my vocabulary, thousands and thousands. Perhaps I should start with "frying pan".

For starters, I checked out ox and water buffalo. Yes there was stuff I hadn't known. But should I have known this stuff?  

Ox: a castrated bull used as a draught animal.

Ox: any domesticated bovine animal kept for milk or meat; a cow or bull.

Ox: used in names of wild animals related to or resembling a domesticated ox, eg, musk ox.

Water buffalo: At least 130 million water buffaloes exist, and more people depend on them than on any other domestic animal. They are especially suitable for tilling rice fields, and their milk is richer in fat and protein than that of dairy cattle. 

Only about 40,000 more to go.