● 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 30 May 2023

Valuable asset, often under-used

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.

Saturday 27 May 2023

Big toe trouble

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

Old age makes it difficult for me to clip my toe-nails – I don’t bend as well as I used to. It turns out chiropodists are now passé; for foot trouble you book a podiatrist, dressed in op theatre blues as if ready for a heart bypass. The nails take five minutes at most, but she notes one of my big toes. It recently lost its nail, made a half-hearted attempt to grow another, is now inflamed and infected. She bandages it expertly, sends a recommendation to my GP to prescribe an antibiotic, says she’ll see me in a week.

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?

Wednesday 17 May 2023

Wrestling with goodness

It’s more fun to write about things going wrong than going right though this tends to be a view held by professionals. Amateurs, like Peter Rabbit bursting his buttons, rush to the keyboard after some delightful experience and try to re-capture the landscape, the informed movie, the magical meal and – unless they are very lucky – achieve only flatness. It’s not their fault. The vocabulary of delight is limited, over-used. The sensations harder to pin down.

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.

Friday 12 May 2023

A post-surgical vignette

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.

Thursday 11 May 2023

The Constitution and the Delete button

Did any of us imagine that losing the sex abuse civil action would modify Trump’s behaviour? Only the supreme optimists, perhaps. Or those who looked fearfully into the future, hoping... for what?

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.

Saturday 6 May 2023

RR - the other side

If not an anti-monarchist, I must accept - given my previous post ("Hey, oldness...") - the title of "curmudgeon". However...

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.

Hey, oldness just happens, it's not remarkable

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.

Tuesday 2 May 2023

Let it remain obscure

Here’s our Stannah stairlift, recently installed. It cost £3500 and is used twice a day, once up, once down. Since the one-way trip is (roughly) four metres amortising its purchase cost against mileage will take decades, perhaps even a century. I haven’t tried to work it out.

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.