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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 √† 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 clich√© 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.