● 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.

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,

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.