● 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.

Thursday 29 April 2021

The times they have changed


Forklifts. They're hardly toys are they?

The French call them romans. Can be hard

Two RR romans (bottom left) plus treble and bass clefs.

Dreams cartographically expressed

Welcome once again to the RR mancave. If I were writing a cheap novel (which I don’t rule out) I’d call it squalid. But perhaps that’s a bit harsh. Certainly the mancave’s untidy and – as the years have slipped by – it’s become more and more uncomfortable. I tell myself I can justify every last thumb-tack but I could be lying.

I do a lot of unproductive thinking in the mancave. Most recently, geology. Yeah, all those techy words: Cambrian, Ordovician, Carboniferous.

Pretentious? Moi? See, the mancave has its own geology. Just like those cutaway cliffs with stripes that identify the “times” they passed through. Four stripes – strata are more la-di-dah - dividing up the last quarter of my life.

Stratum 1. The forklift era. I was still working then, editing a logistics magazine. Forklifts are big in logistics and the manufacturers publicise their wares with these precise die-cast models. Hand ‘em out like toffees. Should I throw them away? You’re crazy, man.

Stratum 2. The French literature era. Goes back to 1973 and only ended when my most recent teacher, Pat, died in 2017. About fifty novels, all well-worn. Yes, it was a snobby thing to do but I’ve never denied this tendency. At least one title is “experimental”; you have to want to read books like that.

Stratum 3. The novel-writing/singing lesson era. They overlap. Both are deep-rooted and I’d be someone else without either of them. Both are very, very hard work, confirmation I’m still sentient.

Stratum 4. The Out of Arizona era. I finished the novel in 2014 but the map of southern France, which hosts most of the action, remains still taped to my wardrobe door. In flat-lining moments I turn my chair and pick a town; let’s say Villefranche-sur-Rouergue. And day-dream.

Sunday 25 April 2021

Sudden and unexpected

I’m charmed by the definition of epiphany: 

A sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something.

The curtain drawing back, unexpectedly. I suppose it happens to all of us. But if one leads a humdrum life, as I have, epiphanies are likely to be small rather than grand events.

Perhaps this is too esoteric to interest anyone else. I was flying to Sweden to visit a manufacturer. The MD of the company’s British subsidiary was disposed to chat (Not everyone chats to journalists). Part of his job, he said, was quite risky: “buying  money” in another currency while guessing whether its relative value would go up or down. A couple of million at a time. I’d never imagined this formed part of a senior manager’s workload. I listened, and asked questions. He told me more. The other journalists on the plane probably talked about soccer.

Valerie Singleton was the star of a long-running TV children’s programme called Blue Peter. As a freelance she presented a mini-extravaganza launching new forklift trucks. Later she mingled with the press. I was impressed by her outwardness, the way her answers deliberately encouraged other questions. And her friendliness. These qualities were authentic and I realised could be legitimately hired out.

A US attorney invited VR and me to a dinner of eight and teased my nationality relentlessly. But funnily. An opportunity arose for him to demonstrate a skill as he berated British incompetence. I told him Brits were good at choosing their servants. The US others laughed good-naturedly. He hung his head, mock fashion, and said: “So far: Brits 1, Yanks 0.” Raucously but with an inner grace. The attorney’s ethnicity lay at the heart of this; his “apology” was unexpected and I was grateful. 

Friday 23 April 2021

From Live to G, with hope

“I don’t want to talk about computers til tomorrow at least,” says VR in a voice of high emotion.

I share that emotion. Except it isn’t exactly computers that are causing the fuss. Over thirty years ago, on the recommendation of a friend, I made Plusnet (then called Globalnet, later Madasafish) my ISP. And stuck with them on the misguided belief that giving up my concisely neat email address – rodrob@globalnet.co.uk –  would eliminate me from cyberspace. Also, and more important, they gave good customer service.

On April 18 I ceased receiving emails. This has happened before, on the grounds that my Plusnet inbox was now full. The solution was incredibly tedious but in any case it wasn’t going to work this time. Two other solutions, suggested by advisers, didn’t work either. The echt solution, I was told, would take 3 – 5 days, starting April 20, a lifetime in cyberspace.

“But it may take less,” said the Northern voice. Why was I convinced that “less” would turn out to be “more”?

Grandson Ian has been on at me for ages. “Switch to Gmail,” he said. He has a point since I already have a Gmail account, it goes with using Blogspot. From time to time I’ve dabbled but I was uncomfortable. It took me an hour to find out where “Forward” lay. Half an hour’s thought and I realised the changeover wouldn’t necessarily be cataclysmic. I could run Gmail in parallel with Live Mail (assuming it resurrected itself) until I got used to Gmail.

Hence the dust-covered robinson.roderick@gmail.com.

This change shouldn’t affect normal followers of Tone Deaf. Only if they communicate me with privately. A day’s forced usage of Gmail has made me love it more.  Slightly.

But such upheavals are magnified when you’re in your eighties.

Sunday 18 April 2021

Turning the key on lockdown


It was the laugh that did it.

Hard, explosive, lacking in mirth, more of a shriek. Heavily influenced by an intake of drink, the sort of laugh you hear in pubs. But we were in a pub and wasn't that strange? After all these months.
Not exactly "in" the pub, in a courtyard outside, the low sun beaming straight into my eyes making it hard to read the menu. The Old Spot, deep in rural Gloucestershire, I know not where, (my daughter had driven us) is a gastropub and we were five: daughter, spouse, their son, VR and your humble servant.

Five! How long had VR and I been simply two, rattling round our four-bedroom house, ordering food via computer, reading, being silent towards each other, losing our temper, talking obsessively to neighbours whose names we still didn't know on brief excursions to pick up the paper.
And now this scorching sense of community. The best sort, of the family if not of the whole family. Seventy miles away, just audible on the phone against the treble roar of another pub, came the voice of elder daughter, celebrating her own birthday – at an incredibly advanced age which, a few years ago, would have had her close to retirement. Hard to believe.
A daughter who'd grown up and beyond. I scanned the menu and ordered pork belly because it came with spring onions. VR, recognising a long established vow, chose battered cod "with chips, there must be chips". Beer there was, inevitably, with a large glass of sauv. blanc for VR. Pop for grandson Zach. Daughter and spouse, silhouettes against the sun, chatting amiably. Noise and animation at other tables. Yet another of those laughs.
After months of isolation the times, as Hamlet had opined, were out of joint. Correction! The times had been out of joint, now they were re-jointed, fused, coalesced, to bring about this vibrant assembly.

The talk between and around us was probably without meaning but it was suffused with happiness. And at 85 I was not too old to absorb this, straining to capture the tiniest sliver of what I was experiencing.

The event had started more quietly. Mid-afternoon we drove over to the tiny disconnected village of Brand Green to lie back on generous couches and soak up the details of a living room we hadn’t seen since Spring the previous year. Walls newly painted, mantelpiece decorated for the season, Reggae the murderous cat killing a small mammal at the edge of the lawn. The conversation was slow, even ponderous, as if there was too much to take in.

Beer was served. I realised this would dull the longed-for moment of the first pub pint, still an hour or two away. But this was more important, a partial unification of the family, it deserved a celebration. We agonised about the villa in France, would we make it this year? And if we did, we would do this and do that…. Wouldn’t we? Say yes.

Then it was time to leave.

PS: More than 300 words but this was a rare occasion.

Saturday 17 April 2021

By prior invitation

 Death has its disadvantages

I doubt my funeral will attract a crowd
Although there will be those who - wounded
In past spats - will look for confirmation
That I’ve gone; that rudeness, cruel words and
Residue of northern angst are flown.

Obsequies are a time for spending less,
For my remains I’d choose a cardboard box,
A makeshift casket, straight from Amazon.
Garbage to garbage would be my excuse,
And yes the oven’s cheaper than the earth.

The eulogy? Who might I trust? I fear
No fibs, just glaucous words like “condolence”. 
Death’s awesome, not a reason to be bored,
No licence for a cliché avalanche,
No hollow tones, no sickly sentiment.

I’ll write the guff myself and keep it brief,
What’s needed could be done in thirty words:
He failed at school, wrote for the fun of it,
Then married well and, quite surprisingly, 
Helped bring two girls into this surly world.

So there we are in that departure lounge,
Blonde wood and cheerless secularity 
The chatter/mutter’s got to be suppressed
And music’s excellent for such a chore,
What’s more I know a rousing tune or two.

But here’s the snag. I’ll be there only
In an ineffective way. My index
Finger distant from the button labelled Play.
Others may brush aside my Schubert songs
My Mozart, Dowland, all my comfort zones.

As I’m converted into falling ash,
And Michael Bublé helps pollute the air,
They’ll nudge and wink and walk off to their cars,
“He would have hated that, no doubt,” they’ll smirk,
The living tend to have the final word.

Thursday 8 April 2021

Plaudits for calculus (and YouTube)


Mostly I’ve done without social media. Facebook, which I joined for twenty minutes, proved to be spawn of the devil, Twitter for those who wanted to be a writer but without doing any writing, while Instagram sounded so old-fashioned I felt I’d outgrown it. YouTube is different.

During my early singing lessons YouTube led me to pros singing songs I’d just started on; extracts from US TV political comment during the Trump years; clips of motorbike races I wish I’d seen; brilliant stand-up by Bill Bailey, Eddie Izzard and Dylan Moran; history rendered in fuzzy b&w. Plus graphic answers to a hundred questions which had flashed through my mind over the years.

Meanwhile YouTube was getting to know me, understanding what interested me, predicting what might interest me. And – eerily - getting it right.

Take maths. It fascinates me but I only scratched the surface thanks to eight months’ technical education in the RAF. Somehow I must have unconsciously leaked this fascination and it ended up in YouTube’s catchment net.

When you switch on YouTube you get a different set of offerings each day. This morning they included Understanding Calculus in Ten Minutes. At no time have I raised this subject with YouTube and yet it knew I would be ensnared.

I’d touched on calculus in the RAF relative to hysteresis curves but without knowing what it was for. This guy told me its rationale and within the allotted time. It’s true, it can be simplified.

Was I worried that an algorithm knew more about me than I did? Not a bit. Otherwise I’d worry about my doctor. I’ve profited and it’s difficult imagining it happening any other way. What’s more it was the truth.

The calculus website had attracted 4.5m visits. That pleases me


Saturday 3 April 2021

Covid oddity

WHENCE THE PAIN? Thousands of vaccinations have been filmed for TV; not a single person flinched as the needle went in. How so? I can remember injections I received in what my kids call “the often times” which were distinctly painful. Especially in the RAF. Were they using garden hose?

UNREAD People are reading less in these infected times. Nobody, but nobody, has admitted – to the TV cameras at least – that self-isolation offers a wonderful opportunity to turn to books. Perhaps everyone’s a library-goer: libraries shut, minds shut to print.

EGG GONE VR bought me an Easter egg, a first in sixty years of marriage. “It was cheap,” she said. I saw why. The sweeties (Americans call them candy) were separately wrapped and not entombed in the chocolate shell. I wrote a thoughtful piece on the PC, occasionally breaking off bits of choco-shell. Suddenly it had disappeared.

Like snow upon the desert’s dusty face,
Lighting a little hour or two – is gone

It’s easy to become a Rubaiyat bore.

IMMOBILISM The terms of my car insurance state I will not exceed 10,000 miles annually. Fat chance! The policy is in its fourth/fifth year and the odometer reads 36,658. Covid has been good for cars. Male neighbours – clearly non-readers – desperate for digressions soap their cars weekly. Their minds blank (Whoops! Some do read and their minds are far from blank).

BEFLOWERED A neighbour, with his grandson, has tidied up our garden. For ready cash. I’m not a tea-drinker but brought out mugs every hour, revelling in not having to pull out the weeds. Primroses, released from a rubbishy jungle, have flourished. If only I could spray the horticultural newness with some kind of lacquer, ensuring it stayed like this for eternity.

WRETCHED SCRITCHERS Cutting toe-nails in old age. A massive DIY tome could be written. I contort… and fail.