● 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.

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.