Rare as the Mona Lisa.
Signs of RR in a penitential act of gardening.
Repeat after me: Ah, that I should be so cursed.
Rare as the Mona Lisa.
Signs of RR in a penitential act of gardening.
Repeat after me: Ah, that I should be so cursed.
|I never actually played on the Bowling Green|
Squeezing this into 300 words will be hard, but that’s my rule. Entering journalism at 15 was like winning a Nobel prize, even without the money. Quickly I realised I’d outgrown my home city, Bradford. Even more so, parochial Bingley. I yearned to work in London. Here are some subsequent minor experiences
● I regularly attended press conferences in the West End, London’s swanky bit. I worked in Bowling Green Lane (see above), 2.2 miles from Piccadilly Circus. I always walked. For the smell of it and because I shared the snotty company of uncaring Londoners.
● Drama happened. Crossing the Thames at low water (by bridge) I saw a male corpse, legs and arms outstretched, half embedded in the mud. Death could hardly have been more anonymous.
● After a press do, having imbibed “one or two”, I’d call in at Foyles, London’s best-known bookshop. An awkward assembly of smallish rooms with an unnecessarily antique method for paying. Londoners learn to tolerate discomfort.
● London’s pubs are notoriously unwelcoming and costly. Even so, London hosts the best pub in the world: The Trafalgar, on the very edge of the Thames, near Greenwich. Sit in the curve of a bow window; downstream The Dome, an arena resembling a huge flattened mushroom; ahead the towers of Canary Wharf – London’s Wall Street; upstream hints of Tower Bridge.
● VR, then VT, was a nurse at Charing Cross Hospital, within spitting distance of Trafalgar Square. We courted each other in what Dr Johnson called The Great Wen. Nowhere could have been more romantic.
● Saw my first opera in London, Mozart’s The Magic Flute.
● Lunched at Rules, the Savoy, Le Gavroche, three mega-pricey restaurants. Somebody else paid.
● Bought wine at Berry Bros, as did the late Queen.
|Tell me - just how does he re-assume the vertical?|
I’ve always been fascinated by motorbike racing. But only recently have I asked myself am I morally entitled to this fascination? Should I, in fact, ‘fess up?
The first races, in the early fifties, were shocking in retrospect. Racers roared down narrow lanes in a private park; I watched from the lane side separated only by a single rope strung between short posts. No protection whatsoever, only a warning I shouldn’t get too close.
Bikes got faster. On the Isle of Man, a 30-plus-mile circuit follows conventional rural and suburban roads, defined by stone walls and house corners. Eventually someone went round at an average 100 mph. The present record is 135 mph. That’s average speed; to achieve this, bikes travel at close to 200 mph in some parts. On two wheels!
Meanwhile better tyre technology means racers may lean over even further to get through corners faster. In present international MotoGP races, the angle between bike and road is less than 45 degrees. Now the racer’s elbow scrapes the ground.
Cameras are so small a bike racer may carry several; not just to record the rapidly changing view ahead but showing his foot changing gear, and his right hand applying the brake. To the YouTube viewer the sensation is thrilling.
Thrilling because of the danger. Deaths during practice and races in the IoM are shocking. Riders wear one-piece leather suits and expensive helmets. Offering only marginal protection when hitting a drystone wall at 120 mph.
At other circuits large run-off areas make racing safer. Rider deaths are down but I can remember the bad old days and the IoM races still happen. After all, bike racing is only bloody entertainment.
Racers do what they wish; my thrills are vicarious. Am I justified? Probably not. Should I stop watching? Hmmm.
Do you use your imagination? Ask: What if? Suppose this instead of that? What then?
More specifically: Imagining present-day you confronting an earlier self. This hoary, creaking, unhealthy yet articulate ancient, married for 63 years, father to two daughters both over fifty, retired these last 28 years, reduced mainly to writing and thinking (moodily), walking the streets of immediate post-war Bradford and coming upon 16-year-old Robbo – tall and gangling, still given to crying, tortured by the chemical changes of adolescence, well-read but way past his intellectual competence, agonised by the presence of girls of the same age, now in work but – for now – no more than a gofer.
This pitiful loser might well irritate me so much I’d cross the road. Shouting: Grow up miseryguts; the only medicine for your fever is experience. Time must pass.
Octogenarian RR is at least aware that older doesn’t necessarily mean wiser. Or more sympathetic.
Imagination allows us to tinker. Old me slips, falls, has difficulty standing up. Robbo helps me. We sit together on a convenient bench. Potential irritation is dispersed; I dimly recognise the turmoil within this unpromising, acne-ridden teenager.
In my much-modified Bradford accent I say: the only certainty is that things will change. Not necessarily for the better. But, unless you recognise these changes, you’re doomed to dissatisfaction. National service was unpleasant. But the incidental effects – hard to perceive then – changed my life and my character.
You will yearn for things but reject them as impossible. Too much hard work. It may be necessary to go in harm’s way to profit. Hence the USA
Young Robbo may be unhappy but he has a sharp tongue. Says, “And old age can become boring.” I nod. He walks away, unmodified.
I rewind my imagination and start again.
Chemo (a liquid) enters the body via a PICC,
a sort of tap, dangling freely when not in use
|The delinquent big toe, neatly bandaged|
|PICC protecting sleeve and Tesco shopping bag|
|Sleeve holds bag in place round foot|
All straightforward. But, one week later, here’s where things get “different”.
Pod: Did you remove the bandage?
RR: You said not to.
Pod: But how were you able to manage?
RR: By the simple expedient of not washing myself.
Pod: But that was one week ago.
RR: Your point being?
There is a shocked silence. A new bandage is put on. Tentatively Pod says, “But you will wash, won’t you.” The word “Please” is unspoken but almost tangible.
I discuss things with VR who is more familiar with my unhygienic ways. VR says, “When you were doing chemo you had a PICC in your arm (See explanatory diagram) yet you showered. You bought a special sleeve to prevent wetting the PICC.” I said, “Yes, but it’s open at both ends.” VR says, “So stick a plastic shopping bag over your foot first.”
Brilliant! It’s great being married to an inventive wife. I even decide to have a shallow tepid bath, revelling in the way my fevered toe was protected.
Alas, somehow the bathwater gets in.
My next Pod appointment is in two days.
What, exactly, should I say?
Yesterday we, the Robinsons, two of us, suffered a disaster within our home. So horrible I cannot hint at it, however aroused your curiosity. It lasted about an hour. Finally normality resumed, we retired to our comfort zones (VR the easy chair, RR the couch), opened some kind of reading matter, and silence descended.
Fortunately this was a shared event. Mutual support was available. After about an hour I looked up and was struck by the tranquillity on the face of my wife of 63 years. The sense of peace. One would never have known…
But was this pleasure? Certainly it was relief, but for relief to exist badness must have preceded it. Relief may be a new absence of pain. But that’s not quite a workable definition of pleasure.
Whatever it was, the state endured. As long as an hour or two. Does pleasure endure? How long can one look at a landscape and maintain a state of sharp and – perhaps – unexpected pleasure? Doesn’t the impact begin to fade? More often than not, pleasure is only truly recognised afterwards. At the time we may not be given to introspection.
I tried to raise these points with VR but she wasn’t having any. She’s more pragmatical than I am. Yet again I forgot about pills at the right time of day. Life re-asserted itself.
People wait patiently in the maxilofacial department waiting room. Brits are good at waiting. Perhaps too good, it’s a national malaise. When Shakespeare exhorted “… then imitate the action of a tiger…” I’m not sure he had Brits in mind.
Doctors or nurses offer that seemingly inoffensive question: “How are you today?” But patients are, by definition, defective so most find it difficult to respond. Some mumble. The more articulate say, “As well as can be expected.” Careful now, mustn’t whinge.
I am badly educated but I hate prose which lacks spirit. I reply, “I am in unexpectedly robust health.” The surgeon – whom I’ve grown to like – looks up, suspecting more. I explain I’ve had to take over the cooking at home and this is exercising unfamiliar muscles. Good for me.
There’s a cursory examination of my mouth, an announcement that he intends to continue to oversee my progress, and I’m booked for another appointment in three months with a choice of hospital. “Anywhere but this one (Cheltenham), the parking is a nightmare.” He nods and I get Gloucester.
This means the booking for the holiday villa in southern France still stands. Cancelling would have cost an arm and a leg, either of which I would be reluctant to lose.
“Whereabouts?” asks the surgeon. A tiny village called Laurent, north of Montpellier. He says, “Not too far from Mount Ventoux.”
The years roll back, “Ah, Provence.” But something tickles my awareness. “Just a mo, are you a cyclist?” He shrugs, “I’ve done the mountain.”
I get up to leave; something feels unresolved. “Thanks for the cutting you did around my voicebox. My singing’s unaffected. Very important. Possibly it’s why I’ve lived to 87.” He nods and I am mysteriously warmed.
I mean, suppose he lost everything: preaching insurrection, tampering with Georgia’s presidential results, the pilfered documents, and whatever. It’s not so much whether he would cave in, we’re damn sure he wouldn’t. Rather, would anything change the minds of his supporters or the political opportunism of MAGA Republicans in Congress? The answer’s, same again.
And suppose – ah, it’s almost too horrifying – he again became Leader of the Free World. A second term with no worries about re-election. He gave a hint when campaigning for 2020. A third term? someone asked. Well, why not? he replied jovially. Implying not just a third term but a term of infinite length. The untouchable dictator. Talk about banana republics.
I’ve always said irony is not fully appreciated in the USA. But presently irony seems inescapable. Having kicked out the Brits the fledgling Americans had a golden opportunity to design a plan perfected for governing in the late eighteenth century. They did a pretty good job. But the irony lay in the assumption that those in power would be well-behaved when convincingly accused of malfeasance. After all, even Tricky Dicky knew when to get into the helicopter for the last time. It was assumed morality would still work.
Amorality – the complete lack of morals – was never considered. But now, well, revolutions have kicked off for lesser reasons.
Having crossed the Atlantic in late 1965 I found myself renting in sleepy Dormont, a Pittsburgh suburb. The world seemed a warm and contented place. Suppose a time warp had me there today. Um, oh bloody um.
En route to the car and the supermarket, I overheard part of the TV broadcast of the crowning, being watched by VR who is far less of a curmudgeon than I am. A magnificent baritone voice, against an equally magnificent choir. "I know that voice," I told myself. Opened the living-room door and there he was, Sir Bryn Terfel, arguably Britain's greatest classical singer putting his heart into something new yet melodious.
In fact, Coronation Kyrie, written for the event by Paul Mealor: "... a blend between Gregorian and Welsh Penillion singing... coloured by harmonies of the great Welsh tunes (Aberystwyth, Cwm Rhondda, Ar Lan Y Môr)... a cry from the deep soul of the hills and valleys of Wales for hope, peace, love, and friendship.”
When I returned, the choir were just finishing Handel's Zadok The Priest. Both reaching out to me rather more than The Stone of Scone.
How many jewels? Lots. But he won't
wear it for long, it's impractically heavy.
UPDATE: I was wrong about not wearing
it for long. He kept it on for about a couple
of hours. Perhaps he's done neck exercises.
The tiny band of Tone Deaf faithfuls may have noticed I have ignored an event exciting the UK media and various groups of good-hearted people up and down the country. Reaching its climax today, Saturday May 6. When, predictably, it may rain
Attempts to find out whether this excitement has spread elsewhere (eg, the USA) suggest it hasn’t. That mowing the lawn has a higher priority.
I refer to the crowning of King Charles III.
When the late Queen Elizabeth II was crowned, over half a century ago, I was holidaying on a very small houseboat in Norfolk. Not only did it not have a TV it didn’t have a radio. As far as I can remember, I lolled. Today, when I’m finished here, I’m off to the supermarket to buy some zero-alcohol beer. Not to celebrate, of course, merely to wet my whistle.
Does this make me an anti-monarchist? Not really. I’m only anti- events that pose a threat. The monarchy bores me to distraction.
More particularly it emphasises how far Britain has slipped down the ladder of international importance. When a country has nothing much left to boast about it starts to look backwards. Talking reflectively about aged stuff.
When the crown is lowered on to Charlie’s head he’ll be sitting on the Stone of Scone, a chunk of rockery borrowed from Scotland. Scottish kings (and there haven’t been many of them for quite a while) used to sit on this stone to be crowned, so it’s old. And we’ll be invited to relish its oldness.
Oil will anoint Charlie’s head. Messy, but it’s been done for yonks.
By all means study history. Venerating it is piffle.
Today I may watch an episode of The Simpsons. Sure, it’s old. But it’s witty.
Think of it as analogous with the premiums paid for safety insurance; a seemingly needless expense until an accident is memorably avoided. Whence the Stannah’s value becomes obvious and is beyond rubies.
It’s strongly made, well designed and easily operated. Beyond that, it explains itself and is of little interest.
But not quite. The Stannah also represents an odd gap in my memory.
When stairlifts were first discussed by the Robinsons we automatically spoke of Stannah. Like saying Hoover instead of vacuum cleaner. Mainly because Stannah’s smallish print ads were widespread and showed Dame Thora Hird (an elderly UK actress much admired by playwright Alan Bennett) in the driver’s seat. The Thora/Stannah link had somehow stuck in our minds. In my case, the final h seemed to evoke the parade-ground voice of a drill sergeant. Stann-AH!
Imagine my surprise when I came upon a small ad showing Dame Thora riding a stairlift that WASN’T a Stannah. A Churchill, in fact. Saying: "Churchills are the only stairlift I trust and I recommend them to you."
Had I been deluded? Was the distantly recalled, if sharp, image of Dame Thora, plus that eloquent terminal h, playing me false? Had Dame Thora been poached from Stannah to Churchill with promises of gold? Was Dame Thora reckoned to be the only person who could adequately publicise stairlifts?
If I googled hard enough I might well find the answer. But I’m not sure I want to. I’d rather cuddle this tiny mystery.
Tradition says the sacking manager will be paid more than the sackee. The justification being that managers carry more responsibility and are required to make harder decisions than those they manage.
In fact the decision to sack someone is usually quite easy to make. Bad behaviour and/or bad performance are readily identifiable. Where things get sticky is in the procedure. When, for instance, the sacker must gather information and write out reasons for the sacking in language intended for wider scrutiny. Stickier still when details – often entirely irrelevant to the main charge - emerge that seem to blur what now seems like a hard-hearted conclusion: in my case the (erroneous) belief that my secretary had not previously been given a good shake; in Avus’s case the sackee had children.
From my own experience and observations elsewhere, “hard decisions” are quite rare. A bit of a straw man. Such that when a perceived “hard decision” (usually not all that hard) crops up it is turned into a pointless meeting or shoved under the carpet.
How about a cut in salary due to this faulty job description of a manager? Or, very rarely, rewarded by a bonus if the manager were able to prove – rigorously – he’d truly done something “hard”?
From 1975 until retirement in 1995 I edited three magazines – entirely responsible for editorial content. I also had powers of hire and fire. During those twenty years, I fired two journalists, put a third “on warning” which I later withdrew, and I also fired a secretary. Is this a poor, possibly brutal, record?
The secretary, on probation, hadn’t proved satisfactory with a manager I didn’t hold in high regard. My immediate manager asked if I cared to take her on. I felt sorry for her, reckoned I could “tutor” her out of her shortcomings but I was wrong. She was agreeable, not even lazy, but quite incompetent. It was a losing battle. And we were a very small team. At a formal confrontation she was represented by her trade union; I provided carefully researched evidence after which my immediate manager did the tough stuff. But I was the one who felt she had to go.
By moving to other magazines I inherited the two “fired” journalists . One was a crook (breaking into my locked desk for confidential information), the other young, unqualified, irresponsible and wrongly appointed. In recommending their departure I discovered senior management had hoped I would do exactly this.
The “warned” journalist may have been older than me. Experienced, yes, if not in any demanding position, plausible, but psychologically unreliable. Given to flattering me quite cleverly. He interviewed an executive but couldn’t produce an article. Somehow this was resolved but the stain was there; a comparatively minor opening occurred and he left.
Firing journalists for “contractual” faults is comparatively easy. Firing them for “bad journalism” is more difficult. Reasons tend to be subjective and hard to explain. Later, happily, I chose better staff, worked with them and directed them to good positions. Proud of that.
|Hastings, where the French scored an "away" victory. The|
word Rex (top right) means king; it is not an incomplete
reference to the act of national suicide now known as Brexit.
Colette questions my pronunciation of "schedule", alluded to in a comment to Speeking Sorta Bettuh. Time for a little history lesson. And I mean real history, a long time ago. Pedantic observations about unimportant historical points I've misread (or wilfully rearranged) will be deleted
For a thousand years after the birth of Christ Britain was inhabited by Saxons, a primitive lot, given to painting themselves with blue dye known as woad and fighting among themselves. True there were kings but their kingdoms tended to be limited and their names didn't sound particularly English, or perhaps TOO English. Finally, along came Egbert (his dates being 827 – 839; only THREE figures you'll notice, for goodness sake! So really, really old.) the first monarch to establish a stable and extensive rule over the whole country.
Then came came the diphthong kings Aethelwulf, Aethelbert and Aethelred (known as The Unready for reasons you may well guess at). Then someone we all recognise, Alfred the Great, who dropped the diphthong and later burnt the cakes. Then Edward The Elder, then Athelstan, (Coincidentally, one of my daughters, I forget which, was educated at King Athelstan's School but by then the king was long gone.), then Edmund who reigned till 946, bringing us almost up to the Start of Real Civilisation on our primitive island. I should add the Romans came earlier than the diphthongs, did their best to introduce us to central heaing but, pigheadly, we knew better and continued to set fires on the floors of our mud huts
As to the USA during this period, I believe the area was inhabited by buffaloes and they, foreseeing the democracy that would arrive in 2016, didn't go in for kings.
Being an inward-looking, fatheadedly patriotic and badly educated group of hairy men (I'm sorry to say, women didn't really get a look-in) the Saxo-Brits naturally ignored what was going on in the landmass to the south. Which served them bloody well right. In 1066 the Normans (Who were actually the French, the ones we've sneered at for centuries while being secretly terrified enough to organise Brexit to escape them) did what Hitler never managed, sailed across the Channel, landed at Hastings, kicked our collective arses and - among other things - introduced the French language at least into south-east England.
The outfought Saxons retreated to the extremities of our Jewel Set in a Silver Sea (Quote: WS), there to develop a deep-set suspicion of foreigners which lasts until this very day. Meanwhile, the buffaloes, 2000 miles to the west, munched grass unperturbed.
Thus, if the word "schedule" does have French roots these must date back about a thousand years as far as the UK is concerned. Not that it mattered. Had it been otherwise, in 1966 I was a Brit surrounded by millions of Pirates fans. I 'd have found some other way to keep up my end.
|Say it, over and over, then try B|
I’ve written for a living but writing is – or should be – an organised craft. Speaking tends to be impromptu, of course, but a disastrous and unfortunately memorable jumble of phrases I uttered as a bridegroom taught me to depend on the agility of my typing fingers rather than the false glitter of my thoughts when addressing multitudes.
Speech should be distinct. With many people this is not the case. Some mumble, thinking they sound casual; more often they are incoherent. Others tell jokes, unaware that the build-up may be as important as the punchline. Others “er” and “um”, the sound of a mind thrashing in neutral.
As with singing so with speech, consonants are as important as vowels. Words should make use of all their letters, not fade into oblivion. Watching someone read sentences compiled to aid speech therapy it’s amazing the way the lips flutter quickly from one sound shape to another. Lips are powered by muscles, when those muscles weaken the speech is slurred.
Tongue twisters teach us that what our speaking apparatus wants to say may not be what’s written. Even short ones: “She sells sea-shells by the sea-shore.” Note how we are tempted to insert an “h” into “sells”. Sure, you can work out why, but tell that to that free spirit your tongue.
Some therapies require us to junk our instincts. Out in the hurly-burly January becomes “Jan-yew-ry”; under the therapist’s watchful eyes and ears it takes all four syllables “Jan-u-a-ry”. That might seempedantic but certain words profit from this form of aural resurrection: for instance, where does the “h” go in “vehemently”?
|Happier, fitter days. Probably on the "wrong" |
(ie, the Italian) side of the Matterhorn while
staying in Cervinia. From the left: Grandson
Ian, RR, granddaughter Bella.
Read an essay by Christopher Hitchens, left-wing atheist, journalist and thinker, discussing Evelyn Waugh, one of Britain’s greatest novelists, though a pig of a man. Two writers I know well. The essay shone light on both and widened my education. I felt enlivened.Extreme old age tempts many to look backwards, almost permanently. But the past is fixed and its truths are known. Whereas time that’s just around the corner may contain revelations which add to our experience. Fitting in with things we already know, widening our knowledge, giving us a clearer view. The essay did just that.
I think I’ve lived a varied life; one might say journalism – my former trade – forced variety on me. I asked questions seeking answers then formed these answers into articles that were new to me. Curiosity was my stock in trade and still is, albeit less widely practised.
So what is life if we do not believe in an after-life? Physical activity may be beyond us but to disregard the future’s possibilities seems like a negation of living. A wilful rejection of our capacity to learn.
Having said that I’m about to undermine the basic premise of the above. No worries, there are always exceptions. Before starting this post I checked my inbox and found the above photo, a twenty-five-year-old moment in time. History, you might say, hence looking back. It’s a weak defence but the photo is new to me, never saw it before. But it is resurrective.
There’s a pain in my hip – the one I lie on when asleep. At my age and with my medical background such a matter could well turn me into a worry-wart. So I got up, switched on my PC and sought distraction.
News from the USA: today is the beginning of the baseball season. Ah, fond memories. But I’ve rhapsodised about the great game quite recently and I’d risk boring my tiny circle of like-minded friends.
So what else?
Glaring headlines. Smiles on the faces of Jimmy Kimmel and Stephen Colbert, two of my intermediary sages. Expostulations from Mar-e-Lago.
TRUMP INDICTED. (not “indicated” as Trump himself spelled it.)
Look, who knows? Maybe his followers will set fire to the whole of Manhattan. Maybe Vladimir Putin will offer him – rent-free – a dacha overlooking the Black Sea. Kim Jong Un promote him to Foreign Secretary (In the US: Secretary of State) of North Korea.
Let’s just savour the moment. That a judge will have the power to say to him: “With all respect, Mr T, you surely realise that what you’ve just said is untrue.”
And truth is bliss.
I honestly considered cutting my throat.
It’s a lousy way to go, I know, but despair briefly suggested that solution.
Yet those subsequently shuddering at my gory steering wheel would have marvelled at my trivial reasoning.
VR, my wife, is not well but it’s not my prerogative to reveal her private details. Saturday meant the GP would not be available. I was on my way to discuss subsidiary medical matters with the pharmacist about a mile away. I could have walked but I wanted to be back quickly, to keep VR company. I parked, got out, glanced at the back seat. No shoulder bag which held important evidential material. How could I bloody well have forgotten? Perhaps, now, I can be thankful the Skoda’s toolkit doesn’t include a machete or some such.
As I drove back to get the bag my self-anger drained away. The pharmacist was a great help and my brief flirtation with ending it all is now mildly amusing history. But this post is not primarily about illness, it’s about one of the unexpected disadvantages of old age.
I am totally in charge of the house. Providing meals, for instance. In my early sixties I did just that for two years. Now the prospect fills me with dread and I cheat. I’m required to choose clothing for VR; the wardrobe is terra australis incognita and I unhook garments to see whether they’re pullovers, trousers, skirts or long dresses. Small items need transporting from bedroom to living room and back: two dozen return stairway journeys a day because I’m forgetful. The laundry. Following up VR’s emails. Pill regimes.
Fellas who have shared their wife’s responsibilities will sneer. Say I am reaping where I failed to sow. But how many fellas know the three gradations of knickers?
|What are those? You wouldn't like them.|
New medical matters have intervened since my last post but, while these events have been - and are - quite demanding, I’m inclined to look for other fish to fry for the blog.
Books? Movies? Telly? Politics? Warfare? Nah, I’ve chewed on these over and over and none supports my oft-repeated belief that no blogger – even of only average intelligence – should ever confess to “there is nothing to write about”.
Grandson Ian is staying with us and in stark contrast to his granpaw he is absolutely fascinated with kitchen work. Four or five cakes (all different styles) have been baked, innumerable variants on the curry theme have appeared as if by magic, as well as quickies I’ve dreamed up just to test him (“Yeah, I feel like an omelette – a cheese omelette, that is – oh, and perhaps with spring onions**. Sprinkled with parmesan. Why not? Fluffy of course.”)
Ian disappears for an hour and I know where he’ll be; all 6 ft 4 in. of him, bent sedulously over the sink, eagerness apparent. Is the work sometimes mere drudgery? I ask, given that all such work is drudgery for me. Very occasionally, he says. For like all proficient cooks I know of, he hates to repeat himself.
But Ian is no one-trick pony. He’s hot as the hinges of Hell on computer matters, a subject that has recently bubbled to the surface regarding a switch in my investment platform.
As recompense I offered to buy him lunch and was prepared to spend big bucks. But no, he preferred a very old-fashioned fish-and-chip shop in nearby Monmouth. It was like travelling back in time, he said. Just in case you’re wondering, my lunch (see foreground) consisted of faggots. They would be a hard sell in the USA.
**In the US – scallions.
|The background, by the way, is completely gorgeous|
Oscar nominated movie, The Banshees of Inisherin, has a title nobody fully remembers. It is simultaneously hilarious, gruesome, profound and deeply Irish. Being Irish might have limited its appeal but a strain of parody (I think) ensures a wider audience. Since the Oscars are decided by Americans I’d be surprised if it wins - the language, its uttermost glory, is nominally English but it needs its subtitles. Certainly I needed them.
There’s also a central premise which Americans might find hard to swallow. Two men are longstanding friends; abruptly one says to the other “I no longer like you.” The other finds this hard to believe. But the first guy offers such horrific proof of this sentiment – and, horror of horrors, delivers this proof! – that there can be no doubt he was telling the truth.
Ignore the horrors, just reflect. Yes we may all change our minds, disliking someone we previously got on with. Usually due to some trauma between us. But here there is no single transformative event. The dislike is born out of intellectual analysis, a silent, private process. More than that, would you or I, having arrived at this conclusion, announce it aloud to the ex-friend?
Why not? Ah, yes.
The movie examines this situation, as a dog might worry a bone. But how can this generate hilarity? Here is a possible stumbling block. The laughter grows directly out of the language. The inverted questions (“Will I be seeing you tonight?”), the repetitions with the second statement inflected slightly differently, formality mixed up with informality (A Catholic confession which will have you in tears – of fun.). Can these things be funny? Honest! If you don’t laugh you haven’t followed the dialogue.
Even so, human beings are on trial. Most are found guilty.
The Guardian describes it as “important” but only gives it three stars out of five, praising the performances – all excellent – but grumbling it sometimes lapses into a school debate. I thought this was unfair. Women Talking is serious, it deals with the essence of feminism in an environment where it is hardly referred to, drama relying on what is said and the way it is expressed.
Women belonging to a religious community in rural USA at the beginning of the twentieth century (Note corrective footnote.), gather in a barn to discuss their reaction to continuing maltreatment by the men of that community. The male malefactors are never seen, in a weakish plot device they are physically absent but present as a menace. Only one man (Ben Whishaw) plays a part; sympathetic to the women but given the neutral role of writing the minutes. Gradually his sympathy grows, meshing with the women’s problems.
What should the women do? Stay and endure the pain? Stay and fight it out (How, is never articulated)? Leave? Obligations of religion and the existence of children complicate these options. The women gradually emerge as individuals, each with different opinions. Discussion melts into argument and some blows are struck.
In a brief cameo the ever-marvellous Frances McDormand preaches Christian submission and eventually pays a price for this view.
The movie is written and directed by a woman, Sarah Polley, and I – as a mere man – think this is an essential element.
Women Talking is uncomfortable, poses painful dilemmas and encourages reflection. Strictly for adults. Are you an adult?
NOTE. My 30-year-old grandson, who saw this movie with me, points out that the events took place in 2010, not 1910 as I misheard. However visual power is achieved by setting it in a wilfully anachronistic community which has rejected many of the aspects of the oughty years.
|Something's been lost in translation here|
Recently I had a minor musical triumph but doubt anyone’s interested. Honest, making music beats listening to it. Not that the two are necessarily alternatives. Making music causes the listening ear to become more sensitive.
I’m recalling a warm day in 1955. June-ish. Before many of you were born. I’m holding an antique Lee Enfield rifle with a metal spike attached to the muzzle. The spike is an evolution of the sharp-edged sword (a bayonet) which British soldiers, fighting in The Great War, attached to their Lee Enfields. Resolutely I shut my mind to the sort of wound such swords would have made.
Five metres away (though they were feet in 1955) is a wooden frame surrounding a straw-filled sack. The sack has seen better days.
An RAF corporal instructor, sweating like a cart-horse, staggers into a jog-trot, roars something incomprehensible, and lunges his spike-equipped rifle at the sack. Spike and rifle muzzle project from the rear of the sack and the CI roars again. Approvingly.
Countries accumulate military personnel to defend against forceful threat. Note how reality is turned into an abstraction. Actually: to kill the threateners. I was later to maintain airborne radio equipment, not to kill. But that’s a fib. Radios helped guide planes to drop bombs which blew others to bits. Some threatened, some didn’t. Even RAF cooks indirectly participated in the killing. Keeping pilots and bomb-aimers nourished to meet the exigencies of their trade.
Later I had a go at the sack but my spike did not re-appear at the back. I suspect I moved slowly and, had it been for real, I might have come off second best.
Hey, I’m not preaching pacifism. But neither am I preaching war. I’m for sack attack. We all need to know just what war is. No euphemisms.
|Yeah, it's simple. One's empty,|
one's full. Up and down.
Good and bad. Black 'n' white
So what's the problem?
It’s easy for me to imagine Hell: eating slices of cucumber, listening to Orff’s Carmina Burana, drinking wine based on the gamay grape, living within the smirk of Jacob Rees-Mogg, facing a holiday at Disneyland, driving an Austin Cambridge, reading any novel by James Paterson, enduring a lesson by my old chemistry master, finding an apartment in London, accidentally smelling boiled milk, vacuum cleaning carpets, picking up dog droppings, finding shoes that fit…
… you get the idea. But imagining Heaven is another matter. Should I bother, given I’m an atheist? Christians are discouraged from imagining Heaven since their feeble attempts in the past have led to caricatures hardly distinguishable from Hell. Also it’s hard on the imagination; 98% of the time consists of praising God but I assume this adds up to more than saying stuff over and over. Starting on Monday surely you’d have run out of ideas by Wednesday.
The problem with good things is that they often become bad things if repeated. When tomato juice became available after the war I found its taste seductive. Bought myself a 1½-pint tin, glugged it in less than ten minutes, never tried it since.
And here’s a point. Suppose I reverted to an old enthusiasm, rock climbing. It being Heaven, risk would have been eliminated. Couldn’t fall even if I wanted to. Rock climbing is, like all sport, pointless. Non-falling would make it even more pointless.
I’d write a novel No bad things in Heaven so it would become a best-seller. Over and over.
Clever Christians get round this by saying one may not understand the mind of God. So Heaven would be unimaginable. Would you take that proposition on trust?
Millions of comments to every post. Ho hum. More sometime later.
The only visible evidence of the new system. The thing on top is
the router, the black box makes the signal more computer-digestible
Time for techno boasting and the likeliehood of no comments at all. I’m having to live with fewer comments these days (baseball excepted) but I’m wondering, might the UK (presently governed by a Ship of Fools) be ahead of the US in the subject I’m posting about?
Until the day before yesterday I was connected to the internet by copper wire. Now I’m connected by transparent plastic cable. Or, as they say in the trade, fibre optics. Which the US, liking to be different, calls “fiber” optics.
It should have taken two hours but the first bit ran into problems. This consisted of shoving new cable into a hole outside my front door so that the free end made it along thirty metres of underground conduit to a junction with the (comparatively) newly installed fibre optics network.
It got jammed. Delays were gloomily discussed. Then a more muscular shover had a go and lo! that pesky end appeared 30 m away. The rest, ie, inside the house, took less than an hour.
Why? you are asking. Speed is the main reason. Internet info now arrives 38 times faster than the UK average. But that’s a “marketing” claim. For me, more like three times faster (150 megabits per second) given the estate where I live is more technically up-to-date than the UK average and was only developed thirty years ago. Reliability is also improved.
Mostly I’m barely aware of this new speed. But it should show up when I’m doing heavier work like transferring photo images or video. More especially, I’m future protected. The old (copper wire) network, supporting landline phones, is already deteriorating. Fibre optics will last longer.
Besides, it’s more techie: digital rather than analogue.
|Grace in the follow-through. The late, great Roberto|
I justified wanting to work in the USA in several ways: cultural, linguistic, sociological, geographical, the usual portentous stuff. Plus one secret reason: to watch and understand baseball.
As it was I saw more softball (larger ball, underarm pitching, easier on middle-aged/elderly players) than out-on-the-bleachers baseball games while I was there. Two to be exact, one in Pittsburgh, one in Boston. Later, on a professional visit, I watched the Seattle Mariners but that hardly counted; the stadium was so huge the game was reduced to a bunch of ants disputing a fig leaf.
But I saw dozens of games on TV. Learnt the difference between a fast ball and a curve. Grasped the reasoning behind the infield fly rule. Thrilled to the hard precision of the double-play. Watched the great (alas, late) Roberto Clemente augment his “three hundred plus” batting average.
Being on TV meant baseball was interspersed with commercials and occasionally spoiled by inane commentary. But it also meant I could watch the Pirates (my home team) play away at Candlestick Park (San Francisco Giants) or Wrigley Field (Chicago Cubs). More than that, baseball meant summer; wearing shorts; lolling on the couch; a chilled can of beer to hand. But never a can of the local brew, Iron City, since VR was convinced it would taste of metal filings.
The smack of a baseball, pitched at close to a 100 mph, into a leather glove is loud enough the create echoes in some stadiums. It’s also unmistakable. For me it evokes a special kind of tranquillity even though the games can be as tense as the outbreak of war. Games never end in a draw and the rules are fashioned to prevent “negative” pitching.
Bought a glove and used it playing knockabout with local kids. Fantastically satisfying.
How about “derogatory”? It appeared in yesterday’s crossword.
I’ve a dubious reputation with “derogatory”. In my youth and fevered adolescence I tended to shoot from the hip rather too much. Moving to London calmed me down somewhat, travelling also helped. But I have to admit there are those I actively dislike. The adult solution is to keep clear of such folk but, even so, accidents can happen. And thus I'm tempted to "derogate" if that word exists.
Twenty-five minutes to go.
Could it be I occasionally attract oafs? Which opens up another question. Am I basically likable? Chances are I’m not. I talk too much, for one thing. And in doing so I seek to be original, keen to avoid clichés. Thus I take risks. Thus I’m likely to be misunderstood.
Nineteen minutes to go.
What is surprising is that I haven’t made more enemies in France. Problem is my French is formal, not idiomatic (ie, incorporating slang, up-to-date words and phrases, abbreviations that everyone understands). No French person would ever imagine I was French. To compensate for this failing I invent jokes always with a sting in the tail. Just when the listener thinks he understands me, I creep up and blindside him. Affectionately, y’unnerstand. Often startling but most laugh.
Eight minutes left.
263 words used up out of my allowed 300-word limit.
Gotta set up Skype. See you soon.
Whoops. V emails me, says she will be 5 minutes late. The word, in case you’ve forgotten, is “derogatory”.
Skyped lesson starts; lasts 90 minutes
Go to Tesco.
Rest after going to Tesco.
Prepare and eat my lunch.
Get washing out of dryer (in shed).
Clean spray head of VR’s en suite shower (soak in vinegar).
Am ready to resume post but have bust my 300-word limit. As the hideous Boris said: Hasta la vista.
You can tell this RAF transmitter is ancient, it employed glass
valves and the photo came from a techno-museum. For my
exam they removed the back casing to makes things easier
Have you ever cheated? Not low-level stuff like a crossword puzzle, cheating when it really mattered. Big time.
Cheat 1. My training as an RAF air wireless fitter lasted eight months. Electronics from scratch; twenty-five exams, theoretical and practical. Fail an exam and you dropped back several weeks. Remaining on basic pay, without the single inverted stripe.
I was three-quarters through the course and keen to leave RAF Yatesbury, an enemy PoW camp during the war. The next exam was practical fault-finding, not one of my strengths. Faced with a dead transmitter I was asked to describe the sequence of steps needed to diagnose its problem. Sequence? Hmm. The little I’d learned about this basic skill had become a blur.
I cheated. Examined the device, found a wire that had been deliberately separated and the end tucked away. Referred to the circuit diagram, identified the wire, recognised the effect of its separation, devised the sequence BACKWARDS and recorded it FORWARDS for my answer. Alas, real electronics fault-finding isn’t this easy as I found out when I repaired truly defective radio kit.
Heinkel three-wheeler. So short it hardly required a reverse
gear. It carried two people... barely. The examiner and I were
bulky and the mandatory hill-start was an ordeal for its 200 cc
engine and - especially - its over-worked clutch.
Cheat 2. I passed my UK car driving test in a Heinkel three-wheeler. I was legally allowed to drive a three-wheeler because I’d passed a motorbike test. But ONLY IF the three-wheeler had “no means of reversing”. The Heinkel had a reverse gear. I disabled reverse by screwing a plate over the appropriate gearstick slot. This was frowned upon but I reckoned I could argue it out if I was stopped for some reason. Prior to the car driving test I removed the plate.
Later, in the US, I took the much much easier US car driving test (in a four wheeler) and passed. Wiping out the earlier invalidity
When younger, Bro walked long distances, Land's
End to John O' Groats, the Bay of Biscay to the
Mediterranean via the Pyrenees. Sustained himself
with pots of tea and cakes. the cock-eyed hat is deliberate
Brother Sir Hugh is suffering from an unspecified lurgi. He lives 200 miles away and we hadn’t seen him face to face for several years. Why not pay him a comfort visit? On the return drive VR noted: He tended us more than we tended him. Competitive ill-health, you might say.
We invented a couple of reasons for driving round the adjacent Lake District. This included the voie sans issue road to the end of Haweswater (a lake) which probably sounds like bad planning. Not so. Going, we were against the sun, coming back, the light shone from behind. The same road could have been two separate routes in different counties.
But the abiding impression of this two-night visit was the intensity of the conversation. Normally talk quality depends on the subject matter but not this time. When speaking to a family member one has known for eighty years, the need for explanations, background stuff, dubious nostalgia and preferences disappears. What’s left is new, revelatory and shot through with enthusiasm. Getting rid of the material that dilutes and – thereby – slows the conversational pace is highly advantageous. The sentences are more likely to parse.
Brother Sir Hugh lives in Arnside, a precipitous village overlooking the wide estuary of the river Kent where it spills out into Morecambe Bay and eventually the Irish Sea. A backdrop of lowish hills acts as prelude to the Lake District’s higher and better known peaks (Scafell Pike, Great Gable, Helvellyn, etc).
A place that’s good to look at but something of a menace close-up. Viz:
|Arnside: Self-explanatory, really|
I suspect this subs' room was American and
may have been air-conditioned, The UK subs I knew
all wore cardigans and impenetrable cigarette smoke
would have obscured the far end of the desk. However
the paper mess (plus reference book) are truly authentic
Newspaper work nourishes your sense of humour, provided you go for cynicism and scurrilousness. And wordplay. All this happened in the fifties.
● Me (teaboy): "Didn’t have sticky buns; got you this." Sub-editor: "Ah, a little iced sarcophagous."
● Saturday afternoon in reporters’ room. Hacks playing cards on green baize board waiting to take telephoned reports of sporting events. Clumsy teaboy (not me) spills mug of tea. Deputy chief reporter: “Oh, xxxx that. Look what you’ve done. Monte xxxx-ing Carlo!”
● Reporters got paid extra (One penny a line) for chat pieces. I’d just done an unusual, fictional chat piece. Much older, set-in-his-ways reporter, BP, says: “Oh I wouldn’t send that in.” In fact it’s published top of the column, decorated with special artwork. Mention BP’s reaction to MH, a much sharper reporter. “That’s BP, isn’t it? He does the straight news story for the news pages. Adds a ‘however’ and a ‘meanwhile’ and that’s his chat piece.”
● BP, just back from interviewing nonagenarian woman at an outlying village: “She’s regular at the Wesleyan Reform Church. Goes on about the old days. Preachers thought nothing of doing sermons lasting an hour and a half.” CS, our local boss (sighing): “Aye, they’d stone the buggers, these days.”
● Sub-editors’ room. News story printouts from the agencies arrive from the teleprinter room via an antiquated rope conveyor fitted with fearsome clips. Red light goes on indicating something special. Chief sub: “What do you reckon. War? King dead? Or just bloody politics?”
● Sub-editor, exasperatedly, looking up from article he’s correcting. “Another damn ‘pronounced’! Someone bring in XX (a reporter) who wrote this.” By the time XX arrives the sub-editor is standing on the large table shared by the subs. Sub-editor points down at XX and shouts, “I pronounce you bloody well dead.”
I have an urge to be different. Reading (that’s books and other permanent matter as opposed to social media gobbets) is good, isn’t it? A sign of intelligence, an ability to concentrate?
Well, yes and no. Consider the question: Why do we read? Might our reasons and/or our subsequent experiences be ambiguous? Let’s see.
For entertainment. Passing time pleasurably. But suppose we find a best-seller (ie, it’s supposed to be easy-ish.) hard going. As I did with the Hobbit-dom. Am I at odds with the majority?
For information. Usually applies to non-fiction but can take in certain fictions (eg, the novels of Richard Powers.) We find the subject matter dull, revolting, over-technical. Are we open about this?
It’s a classic. Written over a hundred years ago. About another country. In an intractable translation. Characters who behave oddly by modern standards. Dare we denigrate “the experts”?
Because clever people approve of it. It turns out to be beyond us. Are we un-clever then?
“Everyone’s reading it”. We don’t like it but need to appear up-to-date with our friends. We worry about being negative.
It’s a movie but once it was a book. A book we never read, a fact we’re terrified about revealing. It might undermine our self-proclaimed reputation as a book reader.
It’s, say, anti-Catholic and we are Catholic. Does reading it betray our religious beliefs?
It’s less than a hundred pages and we associate quality with length. Always assuming we have strong wrists, best ignore it. Who wants to be thought lightweight?
WARNING Some above situations may be resolved by being frank. But – strangely enough – the world doesn’t always enjoy the company of frank people. Calling a spade a spade is OK for gardeners, not necessarily for book-circle members. It’s why euphemisms were invented.
Ou sont les neiges d'antan?
Let's not be bitter about time's passage
Sport may enhance fitness and encourage camaraderie but it is essentially pointless. Its so-called benefits may be pursued more efficiently in other ways.
Ski-ing was my favourite sport for a couple of decades until increasing age told me it was a long drawn-out form of suicide. That there was a good chance I’d die on the slopes. And ski-ing was even more pointless – and misunderstood – than many other more accessible sports.
Ask a non-skier: What’s the point of ski-ing? Chances are the response would be: To get to the bottom. Wrong. The bottom of the slope is incidental. One arrives there because one has taken the ski-lift as a means of storing the energy on which ski-ing is based. Gravity’s energy.
If one discards the coarser explanations (“It’s a licensed grope.”) ballroom dancing provides the best analogy. One doesn’t dance to cross the ballroom. Or to perform endless circles round it. It is the way one does these things. The pursuit of grace. Same with ski-ing.
The essence of ski-ing is in making turns. One quickly learns that this is harder than it looks. Because of the need to avoid going faster and causing suicide to arrive more quickly. Open up the skis into a vee shape and one may ski – and turn – very slowly. A scritching ugly form of locomotion. The aim is to ski and turn with the skis parallel. Many skiers never quite manage this.
But when one does the sense of effortlessness and elegant movement becomes inescapable. One feels more handsome, more intelligent and more controlled. And this happens in areas of extreme natural beauty. One stops ski-ing briefly, ordering a mulled wine at a café, watching others ski by. Sharing their grace vicariously and without envy.
Soccer? Those depressingly gormless crowds. Nah.
Riding the Matchless/Ajay trials bike through the woods.
My expression suggests this is not among my natural skills
An MC reader wrote in about pillion riders adopting a sidesaddle
position. Looks dangerous to me. Never mind, it gave the lovely Kay
a chance to show off her legs. I may even have worn a tie as tribute
I'm riding this Velocette on a friend's Scottish estate,
hence no crash helmet. The pillion passenger is his son
Some vehicles have four wheels. Here's my Beemer near
the top of Mount Ventoux, a famously severe stage in the TdF
Unlike T S Eliot’s Prufrock, Blogger Avus has not measured out his life in teacups but in vehicles. He’s had dozens and it’s hard to say whether he prefers acquiring them to going places with them. Hardly any have turned out to be duds, which I find remarkable. Based on an accumulated fleet a tenth the size of Avus's half of mine were disappointments. Maybe I’m not discriminating enough. Maybe I just wanted to go to places and do other things.
However I am not without experience. The first three photos here were all taken when I worked on a weekly magazine called Motor Cycling, a grave career mistake on my part. I had a passing interest in motorised two-wheelers but I’m predominantly a writer, It’s my view that one doesn’t write one’s best when the subject is confined to a hobby. Abstractions open up the world, material matters quickly reveal their limited potential. Logistics is what I’m best at
Avus has commented on my blog since the year Dot, and I’ve returned the favour. Recently I mentioned I’d once ridden a works bike prepared for a long-distance endurance event (not in fact a race) over rough terrain. Avus said he’d like to see the photo taken and here it is among other oddities. Avus’s first reaction would be to say I’d got the make wrong, it’s a Matchless not an AJS. I’d reply in two words: badge engineering. One reason why neither of these makes is extant.