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Tuesday 27 December 2022

Retrospective rage

I (accidentally) provided plenty of reasons for a gloomy family Christmas 2022. Just a glance at my swollen neck – post op – would have put a damper on most domestic celebrations. That I allowed a beard to grow over the swelling (too sensitive to shave) suggested I was fathering some nauseating tropical fruit that even orangutans would find unpalatable. No matter.

Playing a demanding game based on word definitions almost cracked the ceiling plaster. Drink flowed in torrents (if not for me). The Beef Wellington was superb. And there were table presents.

Table presents are gifts intended to provoke wit. As for instance the carefully-chosen book I received: Cars We Loved In The 1950s. My initial reaction looked no further than that hilariously erring participle “loved”. Surely the author had mistyped “loathed”. But reflect. At the time – assuming you are old enough – one didn’t loathe these wretched contraptions. These were the only cars available. Only the passage of time revealed their terrible defects.

Poverty forced me into owning one such vehicle. I’ve mentioned it before so it remains nameless. It had a four-speed synchromesh gearbox which may need some decoding. Synchromesh allows drivers to change gears without wearisome  “double declutching”. Yet my car lacked this facility between first and second gear. A garage mechanic explained: on my make of car synchromesh always failed permanently within the first year. Even on modestly steep hills, engine power was so feeble I often had to select first gear. And thus double-declutch.

Male Brits tend to glorify car defects, maintaining they form character. Being able to double-declutch was the subject of much boasting. I could do it, but remained enraged that the symptoms of this industrial failure were so casually accepted, even seen as a way of expressing techno-manhood.

Yup, I loathe those cars.

Saturday 24 December 2022

Minor op

Two days to Christmas. I am the only occupant of the waiting room at the Medical Centre. The scar starts behind my left ear and curves down and forward along my jawbone. About 15 cm long, although its route has always been too sore to measure accurately. Black and spiny, like a small, irregular hawthorn hedge

The practice nurse is available almost immediately. She calls my name, and coughs as if she needs to cough.

Anticipation is at least fifty percent of the un-anaesthetised trauma of taking out stitches. The penalty of being adult is not being allowed to squeal. Fact is, the pain intensifies occasionally but never becomes unbearable. Ten minutes and we’re done. She holds out a dish with her trophies; not worth mounting on a wooden plaque.

We discuss her unusual surname, Turkish, her ex-husband’s. A dim almost forgotten figure. She coughs again and I sympathise; she says she’ll be off to bed for the afternoon. I compliment her on her skills and she shrugs professionally.

Life resumes. 

Friday 23 December 2022

Tiny but encouraging

My jaw hurts; like toothache but it’s not that.  The result of surgery nearly a week ago. Ibuprofen holds it at bay but it returns. Hurts so I can’t think.

Seventy years ago, when I lived with my Mum, she had a slender volume on her shelves: The Problem of Pain, by C. S Lewis, better known for Narnia, The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe, Perelandra, etc. Lewis was a literary Christian and TPOP  tries to explain why bad things – like pain – can routinely exist in a world controlled by a so-called loving God. I never read it but guessed at its contents. Didn’t reckon it could help.

These days I’m slightly better informed. Pain is the body’s way of letting us know there are things within that deserve our attention. Or that the body has deteriorated to such an extent it’s now too late for help or hope.

Ibuprofen has its benefits and is not wildly addictive. Even so it’s an analgesic and, if possible, I prefer to avoid such druggy stuff. Besides, it only addresses the symptoms not the root cause.

I concentrate hard on writing this (Hey, it’s not exactly Big Lit.) and for tiny periods it seems I suppress the ache. Not enough to let me get back to sleep but, never mind, a minor triumph.

Despite pain’s continuance I get a kick out of these duller moments. That  I, an 87-year-old, long-retired, hack journalist, who has brought little benefit to the world and is probably no more than a practitioner of poltroonery is going ten rounds with a force of nature and scoring a point or two, here and there.

Mankind fighting back.

Yeah. Go for it.

Monday 19 December 2022

Polar news

Considering it was major surgery (ie, over 4 hr long) the cutting and subsequent convalescence were quickly achieved: Into the Gloucester Royal, 07.30, December 14; out of that rambling collection of buildings at 19.30 December 17. But long enough to disprove a worldwide belief – that hospitals are always over-heated.

There I lay on my back, like long-dead Tutankhamun, in my summer PJs (Keeping my baggage to a minimum as instructed,) arms tightly to my sides, legs as one, covered with three hospital blankets not much thicker than handkerchiefs, shuddering, close to hypothermia,  wondering if night would end.

The next night I discarded my PJ trousers substituting them for chinos (with galluses) I had worn en route to the hospital. Only marginal improvement.

Next night, and on top of my PJ jacket, I wore my outdoors reefer jacket made out of material as durable as two carpets. True I felt stiffer – more corpselike – but only slightly warmer.

The trouble with being cold in bed is you can’t risk having your hands exposed, thus you cannot read. You may only spend endless time sharing your thoughts with a David Attenborough commentary about the new fate of polar bears. Except that those poor creatures are suffering because the ice caps have, ironically, become TOO WARM.

Occasional Speeder sneaked her way in – outside visiting hours – with a bag of Cadbury’s milk chocolate discs. She had emailed me asking for a list of my needs but was incapable of meeting my one vital request: “A burning fiery furnace.”

OS took the above photo and captioned it “Cauliflower cheese.” I trust you’ll agree it accurately captures my sense of distraction.

Pain kept me from sleeping at home. I took two codeines, bravely risking the threat of constipation. Bad health is rarely glamorous.

Friday 9 December 2022

Isn't that whosit?

Examining images of oneself might be regarded as narcissistic. Fortunately, Rembrandt legitimised the practice and his self-portraits towards the end – which relentlessly track the gradual decay of his face – are arguably his greatest work. Most important, the paintings are entirely honest. Verb. Sap.

Fifteen minutes before daughter Occasional Speeder (OS) took the above photo I’d emerged from the sixth hospital (Cheltenham added to Hereford, Kidderminster, Worcester, Gloucester and Redditch) in the recent healing process. Discussion had centred on anaesthesia and the conflicting need for anti-coagulants. The conversation was adult, with some wit, and the staff nurse and I had got on well. Even so I was mildly exhausted; illness requires so much stuff.

OS was my chauffeur. “Let’s do a pub,” I suggested. At The Old Spot she chose mulled wine as a reminder of our ski-ing days. Anti-coagulants mean I’m off booze but the 0% draft beer was not half bad. I relaxed and – unknowingly – I was clicked.

OS says it’s a “nice” pic but that’s not for me to say. What I can say is the expression is unique, I’ve never known it before. It’s a face that has “taken the blows”, tiredness is playing a part, the smile is only half-realised, and the first op has left two deep grooves to the left of the mouth which unbalance the face’s symmetry. Huge bags beneath the eyes but I’ve been aware of them for ages. The hair is artfully scattered. Best of all the whole image is pushed to one side, it’s not straight on. Makes it more interesting.

Tell the truth, I don’t exactly know this guy, perhaps because he has been, and still is, ill. I need to talk to him. Can that be arranged?

Wednesday 7 December 2022

Always be nice to your surgeon

Another op looms but it’s a subject I’ve overdone. After all, what is an op? A day’s work for the people dressed in blue but for the patient – foolishly imagining he/she is the star of the drama – it’s a period of unconsciousness. Skilled writer I may be but there are limitations on describing being blotted out by chemicals.

But hist! (That’s a first usage in Tone Deaf although there are precedents from that guy who tried to make it big in Stratford-on-Avon.) This time there’s a director’s guidance on improving my performance, the medical equivalent of not bumping into stage furniture or forgetting one’s lines.

“After midnight,” I am told, “you may not… chew gum or sweets.” As if I would, for goodness sake! Sweets – better known, if confusingly, in the USA as candy – are no temptation. What grabs me is savoury stuff, so I’m assuming a Big Mac would be OK.

Gum I wot not of. It holds envelope flaps in place. Occasionally it gets licked. But not usually chewed.

But here’s the twist. “Please bath or shower and wash your hair before coming into hospital.” This is another first but is it specially included for me? Have previous surgeons complained about my personal hygiene once they’ve cut off the bits that have gone bad?

They may have a point. There’s something heroic about going dirty. With me it started in the USA when I learned how long a shower is supposed to last. A veritable eternity! And without the distraction of reading a book, as when taking a bath. I could well run out of hot water; lan’ sakes. In and out within 90 seconds is my rule.

But it doesn’t pay to antagonise surgeons. They’ve got sharp knives, even saws. Guess I’d better conform.

Thursday 1 December 2022

Laddishness gone too far

I'm thinking of re-christening Breaking out, calling it Godspeed Garden City. Please note: in creating objectionable characters I am not necessarily siding with them

 ... Wendy put on a light jacket and carefully closed the front door behind her. Walking along the familiar route gave birth to novelties instead of a 30 mph blur: grass between the sidewalk blocks, the imprint of a dog's paw, small shards of ceramic pipe. Her footsteps echoed.

The delicatessen owner, Aldo, hairy and insolent, leant against the cash register. Wendy had last seen him at midnight on Thursday; then too he had been unshaven. Normally he had an audience of Yankee supporters loafing around for argument and Wendy would not have been thought conversationally worthwhile. At eight-fifteen on a Saturday morning he was ready to lower his standards.

"You walked. On your feet. Nobody walks in this town."

Pretending to deliberate over platitudes made Wendy stammer but, like Aldo, she felt bound to make the effort. "Riding a hearse is no fun at all," she said with a smile that cracked her cheeks.

"Some dames can hardly slide outta their cars," he said, nodding approval. "And they're the ones who wear Bermudas."

"You should worry. They buy your cookies and cream cakes."

"But letting themselves rot like that. What man wants a beer barrel round the place?" Though close to fifty, Aldo was hard and lean; his sallow-faced wife who occasionally spelled him behind the counter had ankles like hams and measured five feet square. These facts did not prevent him from scratching his tee-shirted navel and announcing sternly, "My feeling's this: a guy marries a broad, feeds her, buys her clothes, gives her a home. Her job is clean the house, get the kids to school, and stay off the mashed potatoes. Otherwise phooey on the contract."

"Some men are a bit pear-shaped," Wendy objected.

"Broads got an obligation."

Tuesday 29 November 2022

Labour unloved

Today is Tuesday, Julie’s day. For two hours she assaults the house, ferociously cleaning while we drive the short distance to the supermarket, order a snack in the café, chat groggily, fiddle with our mobiles, buy some groceries, and return home. Being careful not to slip on the shining wet kitchen floor.

VR and I used to split the cleaning, leading to much bad temper and, in my case, bad language. A decade of Julie has been like cauterising a wound. We pay her well and occasionally speculate on how much more we’d pay if it were necessary.

Julie arrives at 8 am, thus imposing a demanding schedule. I’m up at 7 am, ridiculous given I’ve been retired for 27 years. I rise before VR to allow her a further fifteen minutes in bed as I shave without turning on the light in the en suite. I’m proud of shaving by touch. Dangerous, of course, but perhaps it proves I’m not a cissy.

Then I get the car out of the garage which would be impossible once Julie’s car enters the driveway. She enters the house full of beans at a time when its owners’ bean count is quite low. The world turns.

I reflect on my Grannie Stringer who died aged 96, having caught a cold sweeping the outdoor cellar steps. Domestic drudgery to her was as natural as breathing – unquestioning and spurning all modern aids. How would she react to our spending money on a cleaner? In her Yorkshire idiom, she’d reckon nowt (1) to it, paying to do summat (2) we could do ourselves. Niver.

There are still those who ennoble repetitive physical work, somehow believing it shrives them. Me? I write about it, turning despair into gold. Mild steel, at least.

(1) Disapproves. (2) Something

Thursday 24 November 2022

Hospitality, of a sort

Breaking Out, page 35, now rewritten.

Harry, Wendy's husband, is a bastard. But he nurses his own little tragedy. In the fifties.

Wendy raised her bowed head. Harry appeared composed, philosophical. "It's an old story; repeats itself in every manufacturer. You start out an engineer - making things - it's fun. But you need selling experience to get ahead. Selling is fun to begin with, and you get paid more. Then one day it isn't fun. You recall those early days in Development, remembering your first circuit mod - or maybe the first one that did the business. You wonder why you aren't working with your hands. You play around with words like ‘sense of accomplishment‘. Trouble is your whole nostalgia stinks. If you were still in the lab you'd be a failure - a tinkerer, a repairman, envying fat cat salesmen and their expenses."

"So circuit mods are the Rosebud in your psyche?" Madge suggested.

"I should never have brought it up," said Harry without rancour. "Cognac everyone?"

With the cognac came the check, a calculated rudeness that was part of the restaurant's policy of creating Parisian ambience.

"My God," said Theo craning over, "a hundred and twelve dollars! Harry, I must insist -"

"Surely even publishers get to spend two bits on a hot dog and turn in the check."

Theo jerked back. "It's just that Wendy gave us to understand… “

"- it was my treat? Salesman's way of talking." Harry took out an Amex card. "With my magic wand I can make all this go away. You were three Hewlett-Packard buyers if anyone wants to know."

Monday 21 November 2022

From the other side of the fence

Not everyone's cup of tea but it is refreshing

I can recommend Henry Marsh’s autobiographical, Do no Harm, mainly for its frankness. A neurosurgeon, now retired, specialising in cranial surgery, he really spills the beans on the risks of cutting into the brain and how depressing the success rates are. Despite the terrors and the gloom it’s become a best-seller.

His third book, And Finally, is equally frank but from a different perspective. The ex-surgeon is now a patient having been diagnosed with cancer. So have I. But whereas advanced age, medical ignorance, a long marriage, writing and learning to sing have helped me shrug at what lies ahead, Marsh is at a disadvantage. He’s dealt with cancer patients throughout his professional life and knows exactly what the endgame is like. Contemplating that future has reduced him to tears on several occasions. I wasn’t untouched by these admissions.

If a little learning is a dangerous thing, a lot of learning may feel like a premature death sentence.

Should I be reading this book? I asked myself. Given I’ve deliberately discouraged many medical people from delivering prognoses (Not much discouragement needed.). Here’s the point: When asked to predict, doctors resort to statistics which have a “mass” truth. Yet we patients differ in hundreds of ways and sauce for the goose may not be sauce for the gander. Also – for the best of reasons – medical folk default to euphemism wherein spades cease to be spades. And I hate blather.

May truth be hurtful? Once again it depends on the individual. If you can stand truth take the initiative talking to the medico. Be prepared to use a direct vocabulary (It’s “cancer” not “Uh-huh”.) and refer to death as a possibility. If not, be vague. The medico will take the hint.

Tuesday 15 November 2022

They do things differently over there

Just pencil in the facial details according to preference

Ah yes.

All elections are rigged unless Trump-backed candidates win them. It makes sense, doesn't it - one symptom of extreme tunnel-vision, whereby one looks down an infinitely long tube and sees... infinity! Should be impossible but there it is, orange faced and incoherent. Definitely the guy you want in charge when the future average midnight temperature in Montpelier, Vermont, at Christmas is 49 deg C. Luckily it's measured in Celsius which doesn't count, meaning that Vermonters may still wear mukluks on their feet and button up jackets made of that material that looks strangely like carpet.

Just joking...oh, you already guessed! Smart folk those Democrat-voting citizens. Just thought I'd congratulate you all in a way that ensured (A verb very much misunderstood in the USA; forget insured and assured.) you knew the sentiments came from some toffee-nosed foreigner and, therefore, wasn't worth a plugged nickel.

Yes, I know you all love guns but what's with shooting holes in perfectly good coinage? Mind you, what's a nickel worth these days? Five cents! You're joking. 

Wednesday 9 November 2022

A brief - yet warm - encounter

Infusion connection; I've had dozens

Yesterday, for the nth time since August 2021, I entered a hospital, n being a large number I’ve never computed.

I was early and needed the loo. Toilets aren’t prominently labelled in hospitals and I wandered distractedly. A woman of a comfortable age, not wearing any uniform, recognised my distraction and guided me sympathetically.

At the Imaging Department a nurse called out my name, struggling slightly with Roderick. She introduced herself as Sophie and, off the cuff, I asked her who she’d been named after. She said, “Why, is it famous?” I could only come up with Sophie Tucker, the American singer born in the 1880s and known for comical and risqué songs. Sophie said a neighbour used to call her that when she was young. “Bet he was old,” I said. He was.

Sophie asked me whether I had any allergies and I said “Holly.” It’s never been relevant to my medical treatment but it encourages light conversation. Sophie said she’d christened her daughter Holly.

Sophie was briefly out of the small preparation room and my eye roved. A large lettered card noted that an outpatient was due an “air enema”. I imagined what that would feel like. As if one were a balloon, perhaps.

Disposable gloves were said to be nitrile. A new word. Distinguishing them from a more familiar, but allergenic, substance, name now forgotten.

After the imaging an infusion connection (see pic), inserted into my arm, was removed. I told Sophie I was on blood thinners because this can cause excess bleeding from even tiny perforations. She worked with great care, told me to check before I left the hospital. That she’d attend to it.

I was struck by the sympathy in her voice, enhanced, perhaps, by a Midland accent. Convinced it couldn’t be faked. 

Tuesday 8 November 2022

The fifty-year face-lift

I wrote the novel Breaking Out between 1972 (in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh) and 1975 (in Kingston-upon-Thames, UK). I will change the title. Wendy's marriage is crumbling but hasn't yet crumbled; she lives in Garden City, NY. The extract below has been recently revised.

Green peppers have a lot going for them. Their gloss celebrates vegetable life with a taste to match; better, they may be scalped and gutted as simply as opening  a ring-top beer. Having stuffed the three green crucibles with rice, onions and ground meat, Wendy set them to steam. Then placed a newly mixed shaker of martinis on the top shelf of the refrigerator.

At the station car park wives, plucked and burnished for the evening reunion, sat in station wagons, children smearing the rear windows. Wendy waited placidly, filtering out the tinkle of the car’s radio and passing time recalling characters in Moby Dick, her favourite bore.

The five-forty came and went, winnowing the choked parking lot. The five-fifty-five reduced waiting cars still further. Wendy sat on, passive and blank. Minutes in parcels of two and five were acknowledged and discarded by voices on the radio; outside, hunchbacked sparrows formed huddles before running the ball on third and short yardage. Beyond the six-fifteen Wendy's was the only occupied car remaining, and when the six-forty deposited it's skimpy cargo she started the engine and drove home.

Saturday 5 November 2022

Kicking time up the butt

Avus offers a positive reaction towards one of the disadvantages of getting old. Ancients must often face an MRI scan in the “tunnel” which, although not painful, is definitely not pleasant. Avus says transcendental meditation helped him through.

For me this form of mind control may have arrived too late since one needs to practice its strictures beforehand and that would take time. But it does point the way towards something all ancients may consider. That of attitude.

It’s a truism to say we’re all living longer. Less well acknowledged is that most of us will pay a price for this. Even if we hold illness at bay we are likely to become physically enfeebled. There will be activities we once enjoyed that are now beyond us. It’s human nature to regret this. And thus we moan.

Another truism is that moaning is a lousy basis for conversation and conversation is one of the pleasures still available to those who are old and decrepit. But what’s to talk about? Our daily experiences have been foreshortened; there’s a limit the younger members of our family and/or social circle want to hear about giving blood, time spent in waiting rooms, or the difficulties of pronouncing drug names.

We may, if we are capable, turn these humdrum events into jokes. But this is risky, a bad joke is worse than no joke. We may shift the conversational focus from ourselves to the heroics of those managing our health care – PROVIDED we do not lapse into cliché, since clichés betray their heroics. We may single out a promising abstraction – optimism, the main reason for holidays, the pleasures and perils of hard liquor – and see if that runs.

All a question of attitude. Old age is not intrinsically interesting; bear that in mind.

Wednesday 2 November 2022

Back into the tunnel

This child is clearly not me but is sharing my experience

A third MRI scan, all of them different. This one at Redditch, an 80-minute drive from Hereford and at the far end of another county, Worcestershire. Better in that there was more space in the car park; worse in that it was hard to find once I’d arrived at the hospital. Confirmation, too, that many Brits lack skills in distinguishing between left and right. T’would never have happened in France; the French being the best direction communicators in the world. Americans second best.

I’d allowed myself 25 minutes once I got out of the car and squeaked in with one minute to spare. The scanner was housed outside the hospital in an ISO container (the sort that form trailers towed by HGVs – heavy goods vehicles). Emblazoned with the manufacturer’s name – Phillips – and a reassuring notice that said it could, if I wished, be hired.

A large plastic structure was placed round my head before I entered the tunnel; no doubt to prevent my head from moving. Before that massive padded ear-phones to deaden the hideous and varied noises the scanner makes when doing its business. Both firsts for me. Unfortunately I wasn’t given the option to switch off the pop music supposed to comfort me during the half hour I spent entombed. Thus, simultaneously, I was subjected to twanging guitars, shrieked nasal tones and the scanner’s squeaks and groans, mercifully reduced in volume.

Eventually I re-emerged only to be asked more subsidiary questions. The poor guy had a strong foreign accent and the ear-phones didn’t help. I was, however, proud of being able to answer “No” when asked if I suffered from myasthenia gravis. A cannula was inserted in my arm to introduce fluid, then back into the tunnel.

Grateful, nevertheless, for advanced technology. 

Saturday 29 October 2022

A little acorns story

When we, as parents, bring up kids we guide them according to our own interests and values. There are really no alternatives. But if we’re wise we drop this when they are still comparatively young. The aim should never be to create mini-versions of ourselves.

Our daughters are in their fifties. PB, having taught science to Asian kids, abruptly started teaching them to cook; she also loves horses. OS pursues money launderers with some success and supports a mid-range soccer team. All alien eventualities. Both prefer pop music – so be it. Both read books which pleases us.

Both are articulate, meaning they have wide vocabularies and their sentences – oral and written – have requisite structures. This might have been predicted but I would never take any credit. However I did watch the roots of this skill develop.

The kids liked words. To the point of inventing their own. In dismantling a mechanism I allowed a washer (the nuts-and-bolts related item) to fall to the floor. PB/OS (I am deliberately not separating their identities) said, “Daddy, you’ve lost a MOORIEL.” Out of the blue! From what origin?

Two dozen plastic animals and buildings could be arranged to form a farm. And what was that? I asked pointing to one assembly. “An animal PLUCTUARY.” I was told.  Yes, I know kids come up with words, but this word sounded positively adult.

I’m a Beatrix Potter enthusiast and read her books aloud over and over. To stifle my eventual yawns I changed the name of Mr McGregor in Peter Rabbit to Mr McGilligaw. The response: “Daddy, you’re doing your special COMPANITIONS.” Definitely adult.

Parents often say they’re proud of their kids, actually meaning they’re proud of themselves. I prefer to say: my kids delight(ed) me.

* The meat of the above appeared in a post years ago. But in a different context

Thursday 27 October 2022

Getting on with it

You could say they'd make Christmas tree baubles

CANCER! Even the single word radiates malign power. Sixty years ago it was a death sentence; less so now, although “cures” are often relative rather than absolute. In my youth, the idea terrified me. Yet, when it recently happened I found it something of an anti-climax. Does that sound odd? I expect to be disbelieved in this post.

The verdict was to be inferred at the first post-biopsy but things got confused by another, comparatively trivial matter. I suspect the medico, standing in for the consultant, was teetotal and he gave me a real finger-wagging about my drinking habits. Parenthetically the real consultant was enraged when he learned about this. Anyway, one way or another, I forgot to be scared about what the biopsy concluded. Gave po-faced answers to my TT interrogator.

In the days that followed I continued doing all the boring things I do and which I turn into slightly more interesting posts. Long periods elapsed in which I completely forgot about cancer. But wasn’t I supposed to be jittery with apprehension about the Angel of Death’s wing brushing my cheek? 

Well, no. At 87, bleating seemed a waste. And there’s another thing. I have always resisted clichés; not just the banal phrases (“Over the moon”) but clichés of attitude and behaviour. And cancer generates clichés by the bucketload. The need to avoid the C-word, the painful reactions, the expression that clearly says “It could have been me”, sympathy shot through with horror.

Of course it isn’t their fault and I should be more sympathetic. But there’s irony, if you like. I’d rather talk about Stendhal and my interview with the late Phil Read. Cancer doesn’t deserve the fruits of my intellect. Liar or extremely self-centred, you say. You may right about the second bit. 

Tuesday 25 October 2022

Was it the numbers or the chuff-chuffs?

Crewe workshop and "sheds". In the late 1940s I
paid ten-shillings-and-sixpence (Now 52p) to visit
this then state-of-the-art industrial experience in 
the sedulous pursuit of rail locomotive numbers

What exactly is a hobby? The dictionary takes us part of the way - “a leisure activity or pastime engaged in for interest or recreation” - but for me it’s “pastime” that nails it. Something that helps “pass time”; that keeps boredom at bay.

Have I ever had a hobby? Writing, for instance. I first “wrote” (ie, compiled words that didn’t need to be compiled) aged ten, fashioning a short story on my mother’s typewriter. In my early twenties, post RAF national service, I wrote a “national service” novel. In my early thirties, living in the USA, I wrote a “USA novel”. In retirement, I consciously decided to take writing seriously, writing four novels, lots of short stories, even some verse.

But did writing qualify? As a journalist I wrote for a living. Novels seemed to be an expansion of journalism.

Learning French.  Between the mid-seventies and 2017 I took weekly individual lessons. But in 1990 we bought a house in France. Impossible to imagine without speaking French. Thus, a necessary skill.

Singing? It’s part of my soul, an art form latent for many years, now fully expressed. I don’t sing to pass time.

The answer is yes, I have had a hobby. For two years, while still a schoolboy, I trainspotted. Regularly, with a mate, we went from Bradford to Leeds and wandered the railway “sheds” in Armley, writing down locomotive numbers. Travelled in a hired bus to Lancashire and Cheshire with other trainspotters for guided tours of “sheds” at Old Trafford and Crewe.

In my sere and yellowed years I can hardly believe I did it. The uselessness. The lack of any aesthetic. And yet, briefly, it had obsessive attractions. It didn’t seem as if I was passing time; a hobby, nevertheless. 

Friday 21 October 2022




This royal throne of kings, this sceptered isle, 
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars, 
This other Eden, demi-paradise, 
This fortress built by Nature for herself 
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea, 
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.

By William Shakespeare, a scribbler, born 1564, some 458 years before the Johnson/Truss dynasty. Thus we may forgive him

Not many non-Brits will understand what’s been going on recently in the ironically labelled “mother of parliaments” (ie,  The Palace of Westminster). My sympathies. Plenty of Brits are equally ignorant.

To help here’s an analogy.

The officers of a transatlantic liner are arguing about which direction the ship should take; nobody is at the wheel, the liner hits an iceberg, and starts to sink.

Panic ensues. Passengers slide down ropes, others jump and are killed by the impact with the water, lifeboats smash themselves against the ship’s side, it’s clear there aren’t enough lifeboats, on the otherwise deserted deck the group of once arguing officers – hearing the screams and imprecations of the passengers they are responsible for – prepare to leave the ship.

But the engineering officer, pointy-bearded, eyes of a zealot, raises his hand.

“Stop! I have the answer to everything. This ship has been holed by an iceberg. In my pocket I have the design of a ship which cannot be sunk this way. Let us lower the ceremonial barge and make full speed to the shipbuilder’s yard. There we’ll build a new unsinkable boat.”

Overboard comes the gurgle of the last passenger to drown. The captain turns to the other officers. “The EO talks lots of sense. Let’s go.”

Question of priorities, really

Wednesday 19 October 2022

Eheu fugaces labuntur

Don't be tempted to wear this at the interment; in
winter it will attract snowballs, in autumn conkers

Nothing’s official, you understand, but I could die later today or early tomorrow. Conceivably, no sweat. At 87 death is always on the cards. Which brings up the dismal subject of funerals.

Funerals risk being lugubrious (The New Penguin Dictionary – 1641 pp: Mournful; esp. exaggeratedly or affectedly so.) and are always awkward.

Awkward? Here’s one. During the last decade I’ve spoken at two funerals and should have spoken at a third. The difference being I spoke by invitation at the first two, but was not invited to do so at the third, despite my close friendship with the guy in the coffin. Since the omission may have been accidental or from pure dislike I didn’t fancy volunteering at the event. An awkward situation.

But mostly the awkwardness evolves out of language, What I said at those two events would, in the USA, be called eulogies. As a Brit I recoil from the word: one meaning being “high praise”. Not that I’d want to slag off the lead character, rather I’d want to be free to tell the truth. Not all of it, I wouldn’t be under oath. But the bits of the truth that mattered.

Almost no one knows what to say. They search in terror for synonyms for death and dying. “Passing on” has been popular but is now shortened to “passed”. As if death had to do with soccer.

I’ve discussed my own funeral but it’s been pointed out that no pre-death agreement would necessarily be binding. “You won’t be there,” I’m told. Raising an interesting philosophical point. Expensive wine is a no-no; most (I refuse to add "mourners".) will have driven. Music? Yeah, but not everyone will be a Schubert fan.

Just a mo. I’m saying “everyone” implying double figures. How about total silence?

Tuesday 18 October 2022

Exhuming the presumed dead

I started my novel Breaking Out in 1972 (In the USA) and finished it, after a long break, in the UK in 1975. Aeons ago, when many of you were still at school. I am now rediscovering it and revising it. Here's a revised paragraph; am I on a fool's errand?

Of course her hair was the backstop: an indecent luxury, a feature that should have become extinct under the Revolutionary guillotine. Earlier in her life it had been a source of great smugness; now Wendy guarded herself from indulgence by recalling a horror movie in the fifties. In which a female vampire had aged into prehistory within fifty seconds - the face turning to pumice, then ash, while the hair remained black and luxuriant. Now, killing time in the salon,Wendy searched her face for traces of erosion, deciding, despite a default pessimism, the surface was still intact. However, as she leaned back away from the mirror, the cape fell away from her right hand - slightly puffy, telescopically wrinkled, the fingers shouting 48 going on 49. Blinking quickly she readjusted the cape.


Monday 17 October 2022

Speaking from way down in the abyss

 

Who's this old geezer with his untended moustache?
Looks like a toff but apart from being an ex-PM he
earned a crust from publishing, as did I. Wounded
three times in WW1 (No spurs to his heel!) he was
eventually undermined by The Profumo Affair. But before
then his government's housebuilding record was second
to none. A Tory, of course, but with evidence of a heart. 

Brexit was “done” by signing up to an agreement that the then prime minister (The Untidy One) fully intended to renege on. Any warnings were said to be scaremongering. I felt ashamed to be British.

Need I summarise more recent happenings? A new broom in 10 Downing Street tried to convert our feeble democracy into a sort of plutocracy (government by wealth). It failed, but should it ever have been considered? What comes after shame? Despair, I suppose. That’s me.

I’m a leftie by fairly recent conviction. I believe in the NHS and feel it cannot be run as a profit-and-loss concern. I feel certain industries essential to our existence (eg, water) should be nationalised. I believe countries are judged by the way they look after the most vulnerable. I don’t resent income tax.  I hate nationalism and its cohort: antipathy towards foreigners. I hate delusional nostalgia, the yearning for Golden Days when our comforts were achieved through the exploitation of countries conveniently over the horizon.

I didn’t always despair. I’ve lived through other Tory governments - Harold Macmillan’s 300,000 houses in one year, Edward Heath pushing us into a logical union with our nearest neighbours – without too much teeth-grinding. Now, I view a House of Commons consisting mainly of members whose only experience of life is via a life in politics. Hollow creatures.

I moved to a more comfortable life in the USA and did OK. But in the end, for a complexity of reasons, I returned to the UK. What expectations did I have of what lay east of the Eastern Seaboard? I’m not sure.

But not this. This fatal mixture of greed, ignorance and incompetence.

Britain, says sickening Rule Britannia, never, never, never shall be slaves. Except when slavery is home-grown and self-chosen.

Saturday 15 October 2022

A new(ish) privation

German and OK.
But sometimes...
I’ve raised this subject before and not found a satisfactory answer. When did I last do something new? Followed by the inevitable corollary: are novelty and old age incompatible?

Well there is something new except not quite. After the second op I was off-booze for a while. This led to my exploring alcohol-free gin, something I cannot recommend. Or only if you’ve never tasted alcoholic gin. A dreadful – perhaps laughable – letdown. Boozeless beer was better, and boozeless German beer better still. Then my personal Alcoholic Lent came to an end and I was back to the real thing from the South Wye Brewery.

But now I’m on blood thinner. A month’s trial, then a test, then - if all’s well – five months of pills with no booze. Every so often I visit the garage with its special racking; run my fingers over bottles of white wine, cans of cider, various beers.

And sigh.

Back to boozeless beer again. What’s different is the length of abstinence. Five months takes me all the way to Spring 2023, by way of a less-than-festive Christmas.  Those familiar with Tone Deaf will recall my upping the average price I pay for a bottle of red wine to £35. And, yes, red has accumulated.  These days I open a bottle, fill a shot glass to keep my taste buds active, and pour out the rest for VR. Who is careful not to appear too enthusiastic.

Other than those quick nips of red I do not intend to cheat. Advice about booze and blood thinner is distinctly minatory. Drink booze and the liver spends all its time processing the alcohol and ignoring the effects of the pills.

Periods of yearning come and go but I find clinging to life more persuasive. Anything else new?

Tuesday 11 October 2022

Dissecting Ludvig van B.

Click to enlarge; identify first
18 titles in 79 strong repertoire

Singing lessons. Some 260 weeks of solo lessons over nearly six years. Initially lessons lasted an hour. Twice I upped V’s fee and she – without mentioning it – extended the lessons to 90 min. Repertoire now 79 songs; mainly classical composers, several folk tunes, a couple of pops, a hymn and an oddity or two.

So am I now a singer? Probably not; I only sing for V and myself. What’s the point then? It’s difficult, I relish the struggle and take comfort in my progress. A self-contained world.

Latest development: Beethoven is famous but not particularly for songs. One exception is An die ferne Geliebte (To the distant beloved), five songs sung as one and lasting about 14 minutes. I ask V: Why not try that, concentrating on the first song?.

I’ve possibly heard that first song twice – purely accidentally, My recollection is dim. I’ll be starting from scratch.

The first run-through of any song is usually revelatory and alarming. My barely remembered impression - that ADFG is comparatively simple – quickly takes a knock. Regular phrases, starting as downward scales, hinge on the same note repeated. Doesn’t sound difficult, does it? But a downward scale tempts you to keep going down and must be resisted. Also ADFG consists of repeated “sentences” each with tiny melodic variations. Please stay alert.

What seemed simple to the ear is complicated in notation. Anyone familiar with Beethoven’s major works, especially the piano sonatas, won’t be at all surprised. Never mind, ADFG is beautiful if not straightforward. Click on this pro’s performance and see if you agree.

Note: This video covers all five songs. The first song, the one I allude to above, lasts until 2 min 37 sec

Wednesday 5 October 2022

And possibly breed shame elsewhere

My gentle tribute. I’d like to up their pay but lack the resources. This is my best shot. While they laugh they may briefly forget being under-valued by the politicoes.

OP ONE: The mouth. Biopsy on slightly enlarged neck gland (yesterday).

Nurse guides me from reception to oddly named Ultrasound room

RR: Glad you’re with me. A person could get lost in here.

Nurse: Oh, if only I could.

RR: Hey, that’s my line.

Nurse: (Brilliant smile)

Surgeon agitates bottle of antiseptic; droplets accidentally spray my bared chest.

Surgeon: Sorree!

RR: It’s like some rite, preparing a gruesome public sacrifice.

Surgeon: (Chuckles, deep down).

Procedure is over. Wobbling somewhat, I descend from the table of butchery.

Surgeon: Don’t forget your fleece and jacket. Wherever it was we put them.

RR: I warn you; they won’t sell for much.

Surgeon and nurse: (Snigger as a duet).

OP TWO: The bowel. Oncology surgeon telephones me at home with results of post-chemo scan five weeks ago (today).

Surgeon: Nothing to worry about.

RR: Phew.

Surgeon (As a throwaway line): But you do have a gall stone.

RR: Given what you said earlier I’m gonna have it out, then pierced, then hung from a necklace.

Surgeon: (Short silence followed by rumble of laughter.).

Monday 3 October 2022

Question: Have I been around?

It could be all yours but you'll
need a passport and some moola

This is probably going to look like boasting. Well, what the hell? For a citizen of the UK there’s little to boast about now or in the foreseeable future.

A blogging friend, native to the USA, admits to never having had a passport and to have only visited Canada. In contrast (see list below) it seems I’ve been something of a nomad. Some explanation is necessary, however. National Service in the RAF, journalistic work and being interested in snorkelling and ski-ing are the reasons behind some of these destinations.

I did wonder idly whether I’ve visited all the English counties. I think so but can’t be sure. Not surprisingly my knowledge of those in the north betters that of those who call south-east England home. Where, ironically, I have lived for over thirty years. 

At least a week (in some cases months and years): USA (Flitting to and from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Washington, Oregon, New York, Georgia, Indiana, West Virginia, California, Alaska), Canada, France, Germany, Singapore, Malaysia (then called Malaya), Japan, New Zealand, Scotland, Wales, Austria, Italy, Portugal, Italy, Greece (Islands: Karpathos, Rhodes), Sweden, Mauritius, Switzerland, Venezuela, Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, Croatia (then called Yugoslavia), Czech Republic.

Ate a meal in: Bahrain, Finland, Thailand, India, Belgium, Holland.

Stayed overnight in: Iraq, Pakistan, Cyprus, Spain, Sri Lanka (then called Ceylon).

Would have liked: The Baltic States (any of them), Hong Kong (but not recently), Australia, Patagonia, Lebanon (pre-WW2), Bermuda (not entirely sure about this).

Pleased to have avoided: Albania, Chechnya, Columbia, The Democratic Republic of the Congo, the others called Georgia (in what used to be USSR/an island in the Southern Ocean), Turkey

Friday 30 September 2022

Where Breaking Out was born

I solved converting 331 typed pages of a novel into a text file at a printing services company. They didn't do OCR but, for a piffling £24, they mass-scanned the pages into PDFs - the tedious bit. Did the OCR myself.

Handing over the musty paperware I was jittery: "This novel was written in 1972, long before home computing. THIS IS THE ONLY VERSION IN EXISTENCE." The woman at PIP promised to guard it with her life.

I’ve been dwelling on the work’s origins. I'd been in the USA for five years and wanted to set a novel there. I had a physical template (ie, appearance only, not the – virtually unknown -  personality) of a woman in the local library as my central character. I'd recently visited Garden City on Long Island and saw it as the best and worst of US suburbia – a great start to the story. Like many post-adolescents I was thrilled by the plot of Colette's novel Le Blé en Herbe (seductive older woman seduces teenage youth) and intended to adapt it. I had seen The Graduate (l967) but wasn’t knowingly influenced.

Re-reading I found I’d spent more pages than planned on the marriage break-up which preceded the lad. Why? Perhaps because I was starting to fall in love with the character I’d created. Called her Wendy because it hinted at her fallibility. Inevitably I grew to unlove her youthful swain, called him Tommy. Yah-sucks-boo.

Note for the credulous: these phrases “fell in love” and “unlove her youthful swain” are authorial rather than sexual sensations, caused by the creative opportunities generated by fictional folk. I wrote Breaking Out rather too quickly. Now, five subsequent novels down the pike, I see it needs re-writing. Will Wendy still exercise her power?

Sunday 25 September 2022

Can you help?

Scruffy but 'tis my own and loved (by me)

It had gone completely out of my mind, a novel called Breaking Up, started while I was still in the USA and completed on my return to the UK in 1972. About a middle-aged woman leading an embattled life in Garden City, NY, who leaves her abominable husband and enters a rackety relationship with a youth twenty-five years younger.

It interested a UK publishing agent and got moderately good responses from several UK publishers although none agreed to publish it. I recently retrieved it from the attic, re-read it, decided it was better than I remembered, had a notion to do a quick re-write, and pass it round a bit.

But the MS is typed and needs converting into a text file, Has anyone had experience with OCR software they can recommend? If I use your advice you get first dibs with the MS if you like.

Saturday 24 September 2022

It's said to be the best medicine

Sometimes the days get shuffled backwards.
As it happens I've been more or less lucky

The chemo session following my bowel cancer op was “vaguely” due to last six months. In fact it only lasted four months. Without getting wildly optimistic I took the shorter period to be goodish news. More encouraging still was the removal of the PICC - a sort of tap mounted on my arm and down which the chemo flowed. Installing it was an op in itself (using X-ray guidance) and I opined they wouldn’t be wasting time getting rid of it unless it had, for the moment at least, served its purpose.

The next stage was a check-up scan of my middle regions and for the first time in this saga I encountered a delay typical of those hogging the NHS headlines in the media. Just a couple weeks in my case. In the X-ray/imaging department notices told me the results would “probably” be available in 14 days. Since then 4 weeks have slid by and no results.

I phoned the oncology secretary, determined not to nag or pretend mine was “a special case”. In fact her friendliness was immediately noticeable, as with all my dealings (bar one) over eight months with the hospital.

My hospital number? Somewhere, I said, thrashing through mounds of bumph. “Don’t worry,” she said, “I can work it out.”

Yes, she said. There’d been a delay. She apologised.

“Due to shortages?” I suggested.

She sighed but not irritatedly. “We don’t have enough radiologists.”

It was a day of economic news from the House of Commons. I said, “And not much help promised from our brand-new prime minister.” Adding, “But that’s a chat between us for another day.”

She laughed freely, even gaily. It’s my role as patient. NHS does the techie, I try to make them laugh.


Thursday 22 September 2022

Beating clocks and calendars

I’m 87 and it’s 2022. Will I see 2023? 2024? Whatever, will I have made good use of what’s left? Good for me, that is. Old age tends to be self-centred.

With so many years already consumed, there’s a depressing tendency to look backwards not forwards. Surprises aren’t expected, other than the last – terminal – one. I may never again ski parallel but I’m still a thinking, talking and writing entity and those are abilities that matter. That’s where the surprises may lie.

Amazingly, old age can help. Used imaginatively old age may work as a makeshift Time Machine. One tours the past not as a passive spectator but as an active participant in the What If? game. Just suppose, you say to yourself, I’d gone left rather than right in 1951. What then?

In fact 1951 was a big year. Hated school was behind me and I was gainfully employed. It’s unlikely, I admit, but I could have joined my Father in his property business. My late youngest brother did just that and became wealthy. As a journalist I only became “comfortably off” on retirement. What sort of person would I have been rolling in the spondulicks? Dead now from an excess of fine wine?

In some respects the decision to try the USA (for six years) delayed my journalistic progression to an editor’s chair. Staying in the UK I might have ended up on a more influential magazine? Become a talking head on telly?

As it happened I ended up exactly where I wanted. Other decisions could well have been disastrous. But the Time Machine only flirts with disaster. If things turn painful, make another (imaginary) decision.

Exercising one’s imagination helps sustain life. Hey, look what I’ve just done. Is 2025 a possibility?

Sunday 18 September 2022

The power of things

Why don't I throw them away? You're joking!

What part does symbolism play in your life? Whereby some artefact or acted-out ritual is treated as if it can re-evoke – even re-create – an emotional event or someone we were close to. Graves are symbols.

I thought I was done with the Queen’s death, but now there’s its symbolism. People are joining a queue (US: a “line”) stretching some five miles down the Thames. They are warned their wait may take twenty hours,  that it may be dark and cold before they are able – for a few seconds – to view a coffin that contains the Queen’s body. From all parts of Britain, some from abroad

Brits have a comical relationship with queues; we are said to be the best (ie, most placid, the most organised) queuers in the world, though the French would say there isn’t much competition for this trophy. But this queue is serious. Those interviewed afterwards speak in both hushed and ecstatic voices. Even wiping away tears. Quite young people say it was enormously important.

There are many justifications, with “paying respect” leading the way. Understand, I’m not putting down this phenomenon. I’m in distant awe at it. I myself am not a queuer. In my youth I waited for a Toulouse-Lautrec exhibition and was outraged by a salon so crowded I could hardly see the paintings.

This London queue is drawn by a symbol: the coffin, made symbolic by its association with a famous death. There’s nothing else to see. What then follows are, I imagine, attempts to ascribe hidden meanings to what was seen. A difficult process which, alas, may end disastrously in cliché. Worn phrases which have lost all impact. In my attic are two of my symbols: my climbing boots bought in 1952. Undiscardable. Fraught with cast-iron meaning. But no queueing.

NOTE: I wrote this post without a great deal of conviction. I am surprised and pleased by the worthwhile responses it has attracted.

Friday 9 September 2022

Random reckonings on royalty

During WW2 the Queen (then a Princess) did
National Service as an Army mechanic. Ten years
later I too did National Service albeit in the RAF,
Discuss

Queen Elizabeth II died this week, aged 96. Not that my opinion is worth a plugged nickel, but what are my thoughts? Scattered, I’d say.

Unlike most Britishers I am old enough to have been “ruled” (an odd participle for 2022) by a previous monarch: George VI. I was informed he’d died while I worked as a teaboy with the local newspaper. Later, having booked a houseboat holiday on the Norfolk Broads (stretches of water, not the opposite sex), I was told it clashed with Elizabeth’s coronation. I protested that the paper could get along without my minuscule services and the editor relented.

My parents were fairly passive Conservatives, my mother a strong royalist. She was to win second prize in a nationwide poetry competition based on the coronation. I vaguely adopted their views, and would occasionally opine that Labour Party members were somehow unwashed. Living in a kingdom (a queendom, I suppose) was no big thing.

On returning to the UK after six years in Pennsylvania I became a more active member of the National Union of Journalists and thus left-wing. Fellow NUJ members insisted the monarchy was pointless and after the feeblest of intellectual struggles I agreed. Mostly I ignored the royals’ activities other than when they became newspaper headlines.

As I got older the Queen got even older. I reflected. I didn’t like it when the Queen was jeered at for being standoffish about Princess Di. Younger people (including the middle-aged, even the elderly) don’t understand the ancients or their rules, and my views were changing. The Queen had an outdated job but did it well. No prizes for ageing, only brickbats.

I fantasised her deathbed thoughts. “Thank goodness, that’s over.” I won’t share them but I think (I hope) I understand them.

Thursday 8 September 2022

The book

Here's Kirk Douglas. Strapped to a ship mast
so that he may hear, but not be seduced by,
the usually fatal Song of the Sirens. The theme
of Joyce's Ulysses is based on Homer's epic of
the same name. I've read the novel but avoided
the movie; Kirk's a wee bit too young, I fear 

Last night a 90-minute TV documentary devoted to a single novel! One that even many of the world’s intelligentsia haven’t read! Starting at 21.00 which in the UK is prime time TV! Satisfying but there's never enough!

Gotta to be James Joyce’s Ulysses. It was and is and ever will be.

I’m not really entitled to cut another slice of this cake. I’ve often referred to it in Tone Deaf, most recently in July of this year. In November 2013 I posted on a US judge’s decision, in 1933, that Ulysses is not pornographic. One comment. My fault no doubt.

On October 21, 2019 (Literary Ton), it figured in “a hundred books that have entertained me” although it wasn't part of the list. Certain uphill sections of France’s great bike race, the TdF, are graded according to difficulty (1, 2, 3); others are labelled hors catégorie (beyond categorisation) and that’s where Ulysses lies in the literary world.

I’ve read Ulysses more than once and I suppose that's boasting. So be it. I’ve always said I would never recommend it to anyone; that readers should come to it via their own inclination or leave it alone. I stand by that.

Why is Ulysses so great and so damn difficult? I might be able to tell you but not within the limitations of this shimmering screen. Over several nights egalitarian conversation lubricated by a few bottles of Pierre Ponelle’s 1945 Richebourg, a burgundy that cost £550 a bottle in 1995, the year I retired from journalism.

So, a cop-out. Not exactly. I’d love to try. Might have been born to do just that. But you’d have to listen carefully. Bring your own copy. And pay the wine bill.

Monday 5 September 2022

Social events aren't our bag (normally)

RR makes a valid point to Barry
while Carl works on, oblivious

Old age promotes immobility. Adding old age to our major preoccupations (RR: various forms of writing; solo singing lessons; V: voracious reading) means our social life – other than with the family – is virtually non-existent. No recommendations, please. We are both far too old to profit from them

Recently I realised how far away from sociability I’d become. Carl, our current gardener and handyman, arrived to continue a major project, accompanied by Barry, one of our former gardeners. Barry, who is very sociable, said he was present to check Carl’s progress. He fibbed. He had come to talk.

Incautiously I mentioned my birthday, a few days past (“Now I’m only three years short of ninety; that’s gotta to be The Moribund Stage.”) Serves me right. Barry seized the opportunity: “Bring out some beer, we have to celebrate.”

Barry and I did just that. Carl, conscientious to a fault, quickly polished off his bottle and got on with his work. Daughter Professional Bleeder photographed the three of us from an upstairs windows. You'll need to double-click to see the detail then note my didactic hand gesture. Being too lazy to arrange social events doesn’t mean I’m anti-social. I enjoy chat and Barry and I have several shared interests. It’s just that the rarity of the event made it feel strange in retrospect.

Why don’t I do this more often, I asked myself. I knew the answer. It’s too wearisome to arrange, Despite being over-vocal on the subject of desmodromic valves still used on Ducati motorbikes.

The other photo shows the steps and handrails Carl has fashioned to ease V’s descent down to the patio. The guy’s a workaday genius. You’ll be pleased to know the woodwork has subsequently been stained. 

Carl's new staircase provides a safer
access to the patio. Both the staircase and
the table have subsequently been stained.

Monday 29 August 2022

An Old Man's Lament

 The Enemy

Age entwines 
Squeezing the tectonic plates
Of illness; creaking then cracking, 
Groaning the white’ning bones
Which hold soft tissue stiff.

Age invades;
Slowing the link between
The mind and tongue,
Blurring the sense of what’s abroad,
Worse still, of what’s to come

Age corrupts;
Poisoning the so-called will to live,
Rotting the sight, the strength, the grip
On what we hold most dear,
That gilds, within, our possibilities

Age foresees;
Death’s onset and oblivion,
The closing of that well set trap,
The end that is our nothingness
Forgotten by the others who survive.

As a sport it stinks

Proletariat yellow ducks doing nothing

The barely perceptible class war of the duck race

First prize at Hereford Rotary Club’s Duck Race on Sunday was £1000. Professional Bleeder and I went down to the Hungerford Bridge across the Wye to watch the action.

I say “action” advisedly. Ducks, when racing, make snails look like Formula 1. Of course these weren’t real ducks. They were plastic and not entirely convincing. True they had heads, necks and bodies but they lay in the water on their sides, seemingly dead to the world. 

Also they appeared to represent Britain’s class system. A smallish group, coloured dark green, went into the water first. Later some 5000 yellow ducks were added. We learned the greens were sponsored by businesses at £50 a pop, the yellows (£2 each) were the common herd – you and me. If anything, the yellows were deader than the greens.

Races require movement and it seemed this race would fail at the outset. Nothing was happening. Fortunately the gentlest of zephyrs stirred the competitors into some sort of competition – average speed 0.002 mph. A judge-cum-duck-handler waited patiently at the floating finishing line.

After an interminable wait a green duck crept to within two metres of the line. But then the uniqueness of the duck race became apparent. Another gentle zephyr but from another direction! And the ducks all went into reverse.

Could this race last for ever? Meanwhile several greens were tangling themselves among weeds draped from the river bank.

Finally, a green duck touched the line and the judge raised his hand. The wind blew stronger and a phalanx of mixed colours reached the line simultaneously causing the judge to unship a fishing net and gather them up communally.

PB had planned a corned-beef hash. At the corner shop we were horrified to find corned beef costs £4.50 a tin. The hell with ducks.

Sunday 21 August 2022

Way to go, PB!

The "swanky" restaurant in Paris where the
Unsolicited Testmonial became physical

Purple hair isn't PB's only unusual attribute;
she is also part owner (a tiny part to be sure) of a
race horse, and is seen on TV (second from right) 

My elder daughter recently turned sixty. A few extra twists and turns in a life that has been all twists and turns and she could be retired like me. I find this strange.

Although presently impeccably respectable she has led a rackety working life. Cleaner at a recording studio then a police station, over a decade as a phlebotomist at the local hospital (hence her self-chosen blogonym – here on Tone Deaf – as Professional Bleeder), teacher’s assistant, then science teacher, now culinary technology specialist at a secondary school.

It isn’t then too surprising that, for reasons I won’t go into, her hair is artificially coloured light purple. And this has led her into the sparsely populated Land of the Unsolicited Testimonial.

It started locally among groups of teenage girls with whom, PB admits, she has little in common. “Love your hair,” they giggled. Often in droves. Same thing from a ticket collector at Kings Cross station in London.

Now it has spread to France, even that hive of sophistication, Paris, where PB broke her journey to our holiday villa. There she wandered, killing time. A young English couple took time off to pay the now familiar compliment. A young man of unknown origin struggled to do the same. At a “swanky” restaurant a waiter provided special attention.

On the return journey she opted for a very late lunch at the same restaurant and was told “It’s always time for lunch in France.” Then she was spotted by the waiter of a fortnight ago.

“You came back!” he said, in French.

“You remembered me,” she replied.

“You have purple hair,” he said.

On departure he kissed her on both cheeks, a French “first” for her.

To me, she admits, her French is improving.

Le cœur a ses raisons que la raison ne connaît point.

PS. I forgot. An ultra-chic Parisian woman said "quite a lot" (in French) about the hair. PB got muddled, saying she didn't speak French. "Yes you do," said the Parisienne