● 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.

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