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● Plus my novels, stories, verse, vulgar interests, apologies, and singing.
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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.