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● Plus my novels, stories, verse, vulgar interests, apologies, and singing.
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Wednesday 30 August 2023

Laundry baskets historically

Different application, same atavism

Traditional “woven” laundry baskets go back a long way. My 96-year-old Grannie had one and I have no reason for thinking they didn’t predate her. But more than that bare fact, such artefacts shed light on the development of technology and the cost of labour. For one thing they reflected a period when virtually all home-laundered materials were dried by hanging them out on a line. Thus even quite poor families required an appropriate (ie, perforated) container for transporting wet stuff out into the back yard.

These days plastics is the logical solution. But, then, cheap plastics hadn’t been invented. Labour was cheap, hence the “woven” basket. Theoretically a woven basket would now cost a lot more than a plastic one but this wouldn’t allow for the fact that these days machines can weave. There’s a philological point here. We still call these things “baskets”, but it’s an imprecise – perhaps unsatisfactory - word when referring to plastics, even though some plastic laundry baskets are moulded criss-cross fashion that echoes weaving.

As if some people can’t let go of the past. Leading to practical oddities. My in-laws had a gas-fired open-hearth installed, with plastic shapes electrically lit to suggest the embers of a coal fire. Yet they were not well off. Sometimes they would sacrifice “real” warmth for “illusory” warmth by switching off the gas fire and making do with just the illumination.

I can’t say I like laundry baskets. I see them as emblems of the Monday mornings on which my mother used “to do the washing”. For some reason which I cannot explain I found laundering a depressing ritual even though I wasn’t directly involved in it. The detergent had a pungent smell which irritated my nasal passages. Even as I write, that smell… 

Tuesday 29 August 2023

Bye-bye yesterday

You might say its nature was compromised

Daughter PB has returned to teaching after several weeks looking after us. So it’s back to domestic duties for me and the daily comforting of VR, spouse of 63 years. No more stretching out a hand for a meal and a drink. Last might it was a valedictory Manhattan cocktail.

While she’s here PB does much laundering and has presided over the last useful days of our laundry basket. A woven structure, it has shed broken-off lengths of bamboo for months; now a handle has torn away. I promised to replace it with something plastic but PB proved to be surprisingly sentimental about the wreck. No matter, once I’d dropped her at the bus station I was off to J-Mart, the store with the infinite range of products.

Even VR proved slightly mournful, remembering where she’d bought it – a basketwork shop in Kingston-upon-Thames, some 45 years ago. I hate nostalgia and the way it glories the past over the present yet I have to confess I find it impossible to throw away my climbing boots, bought in 1953.

Since I’d had little to do with the basket I didn’t grieve at its passing. Not a fan of baskets, don’t like the way they creak. But where should ours be discarded? With the uprooted weeds, given it was once organic itself?

Its replacement is plastic and shaped like a baby’s cradle. It cost £5.99 and I suspect the basket cost the same all those years ago. It will “see me out” as my Grannie would say. It doesn’t have the same traditional form as its predecessor but it feels handier. Also it’s lighter.

I subscribe to the view that I may write about anything but I reckon there’s little more to be said about this minor washroom event.  

Wednesday 23 August 2023

Was I someone else?

One may criticise one’s own looks publicly; I’ve done this often. But may one refer to one's “good” looks? It could attract ribaldry.

In 1997 I was 61. That year I skied France’s greatest ski area, The Three Valleys, and here’s my ski pass. Chances are I did my favourite route: alone, up to the head of the Méribel valley, cross over into Val Thorens, ski down, take the cable car to the top of the isolated and conical peak, Cima Caron, ski down and scuttle off to catch one of the last lifts of the day back to Méribel.

But this isn’t about ski-ing. Look again at the face on that pass. I am astonished. Lordy me! Almost handsome, almost pretty. Was that really me?

Which may explain an odd event. I shared a chalet with married couples, friends with each other, from Richmond, near London. All wealthy – the men doctors, the women solicitors (US: attorneys). Educationally I should have been out of my depths but – inevitably – I competed. And when it came to writing a valedictory card for the wonderful chalet girl I was voted the job.

Yes, quite sickening. But there’s more.

On the last day the others were scheduled to leave the chalet before me and I did the washing up. Several women came into the kitchen to – Wow! - kiss goodbye. Dispassionate kisses y'unnerstand, but kisses nevertheless. Good grief! Remember, these were Brits, not ever-kissing Americans. Then two other women, less certain of themselves, came in and waited for me to kiss them. Being a Brit myself I remained aloof and they retreated, visibly hurt. I regret this but I’ve never been a take-the-initiative kisser.

Not me at all.

Tuesday 22 August 2023


SPENDTHRIFT ROBINSONS No, it’s not a fly-paper. It’s a record of the first or second (equally horrific) spend at the Carrefour supermarket kicking off our recent holiday in France. Ninety-seven items – many of them multiples – totalling €655.87 ($715.87). Not forgetting, as I said, another day’s Carrefour visit where a similar sum was spent.

Some items may be rather exotic to those whom the French call Anglo-Saxons. Foie de veau (calf’s liver), for instance. Two oignons Lézignan (onions from the eponymous commune in Corbières). L’Equipe (daily newspaper devoted entirely to sport). Four 50 cl bottles of eau gazeuse (fizzy water). 130 gm of éminces soja (vegan stuff). Allumettes végétal (literally: vegetable safety matches).

Happy expensive days.

POSSIBLY AN ENGLISH TRAIT. Daughter PB, presently looking after us, tells the story. In London a middle-aged woman runs desperately to catch a bus. The driver notices her and slows. She reaches for the grab handle and, abruptly, her knickers drop round her ankles. A moment’s thought and she kicks the knickers under the bus. Then steps up on to the platform.

Some people fear humiliation more than pain. I rather like the thought that this quick-witted protagonist punched the sky triumphantly. A resolution we would all applaud.

Sunday 20 August 2023

Gardens may be lovesome but are also hard work

The secondhand pots (see previous post) find a new home. The best one - which should have cost £50 - £60 but only cost a tenner - is on the extreme left, Coimpliments have  been paid by passers by. I will now resign as a garden designer.

Wednesday 16 August 2023

Pot hunt

Capacious and pretty. Worth ten quid to anyone

My distaste for gardening is well-known. Yet daughter PB and I spent last week happily engaged in a garden-related pursuit. How come? A brain storm? A Damascene moment on the patio? A horticultural visitation from On High?

Each weighed a ton. Utterly hurricane-proof

None of these. Let’s go back two decades. In 1998 we moved into a newly built home. Luxurious by our standards except for a pathetic strip of lawn at the front. Flush with having sold a house within 12 miles of London we had the lawn replaced with a fancy brick-laid surface surrounded by fancy railings. For decoration, plants in largish pots.

Hand-crafted at £6.50 each

As years rolled by it occurred to me that these randomly placed pots could hardly be regarded decorative. There was no plan, there weren’t enough of them, and many just weren’t big enough. I had looked into this earlier and reeled away in shock. The prices of simple pots that suited my purpose were ridiculous. I have dough but I simply hate being taken to the cleaners.

Sleek matching pair; cost us £30

But PB had a solution – Facebook’s Marketplace. A source of reasonably priced, garden pots, admittedly secondhand but then pots don’t show too many signs of wear. Straightaway I saw Pot One – typically retailing at £50 - £60 – going for a tenner. And, for £45, a collection of five or six pots made to the owner’s specs.

But it wasn’t just price. We travelled round and about the lovely Welsh Marches (Bartestree, Monmouth, St Briavels) paying what was asked and briefly enjoying the company of people who were relieved to be treated as human beings which is apparently not always the case with online transactions. Later I enjoyed an exterior design moment: less (ie, fewer clusters) is more. So the pots will be gathered like Biblical sheep. 

The finished layout will be shown.

Monday 14 August 2023

New horse, same stable

It's called Two Homelands and, yes,
those are gents' urinals on the cover.
I've been told they won't attract readers.
TD fans, prove the nay-sayers wrong.

What a bargain! Two-hundred-and-ninety pages, thirty-six stories for… actually, I’ve no idea about the price. Six pre-pub copies of the book - the one on the right - arrived today and I hurried into print. Wanted to show there was life in the old dog yet.

Much of the content – but not all - appeared in Tone Deaf over the years. Always assuming you read it at the time, you’ll have forgotten it by now. Go on a voyage of re-discovery, round the world and back. Think to yourself: gosh, what a life he led. Not that it’s all autobiographical. I do admit to a certain degree of imagination.

Keep me from starving in a garret. If that’s a cliché then it’s not typical of what’s between the covers.

More follows.

Saturday 12 August 2023

Dancing with tadpoles

Previous unremarked TD posts have shown me no one’s particularly interested in an amateur learning to sing the classical repertoire. I’ve no complaints, amateurs deserve what they get. Hey, go out and become professional and sell some recordings.

So I’ve held back. But this is a comparatively new part of me, supplementing an earlier life in journalism, marriage, RAF national service, six years in the USA, menacing illness, novel writing, a love affair with French, wine snobbery and – as Avus points out – being blunt.

I’m at the end of my life and yet there are magic moments when V directs me to a new score. Gradually the tadpoles dancing on five-barred gates break away from their printed form and become available to me. As sounds then, hanging together, as songs. And I reproduce these songs. Imperfectly, true; but better than I would have done a year ago.

And in doing so, wrestling with difficulties where some tadpoles hold back their beauty, I arrive at the far edge of how and why this musical form was created. Hmm. That was harder because there’s a switch to a minor key in the repetition. But not just because the composer was dissatisfied with a bald repeat. A new note influences those that surround it. They become a new phrase. And so there’s a new beauty which echoes – differently – the beauty that went before.

I’m not pretending this is unique. I suspect carpenters experience something similar, as do other craftsmen. I’ve felt it when writing but this is music, something I never thought I’d understand. To be insufferably grandiose I imagine myself as part of the flow that, say, started in Salzburg in the mid-eighteenth century. A cork bobbling in that river. Old but not yet dead.

Thursday 10 August 2023

Towards untroubled water

The elegant Millau bridge is actually a viaduct. From afar it looks like a fleet of yachts and signals to the south-travelling Robinson group we've reached the fringe of the Languedoc area in France where we've holidayed for more than a decade. I needed something noble and beautiful for my mobile's home page. This fills the bill.

Wednesday 9 August 2023

It gets me there


Is it handsome? Perhaps
it's a case of handsome
is as handsome does

My present car is my third Skoda Octavia, bought consecutively. In all senses it’s the best car I’ve owned which – to my mind – is at it should be. I’ve learned from experience and it was bought to drive not to fondle. Its prime virtue is its seven-speed automatic gearbox which can be switched to manual when descending steep slopes in mid-Wales. All its occupants sit in comfort, its boot is huge (essential for French holidays) yet it is propelled by a comparatively small (ie, 1.4 litre) petrol engine.

You’d hardly know. When I need to accelerate it responds – heartily. On French autoroutes it maintains the legal top speed of 130 kph (80 mph) hour after hour. It’s economical and, thus, the annual road tax is £30. It’s even handsome but perhaps that’s mere familiarity.

It’s also unique in several ways. It’s slightly elderly (bought in 2016) yet it’s done less than 50,000 miles, thanks to the pandemic. More particularly it will almost certainly be the last car I own. I’m 87; the DVLA and insurance companies look warily at such ancients behind the steering wheel.

I had a little epiphany with it. Given its low mileage I decided to extend the warranty costing about £200. Recently a slight leak developed in the cooling system and, lo, it was covered by the warranty. The work took three hours and main-dealer labour costs £100/hour. Do the arithmetic and you’ll see why I’m smiling.

One doesn’t boast about owning a Skoda Octavia at cocktail parties. Nor does one pretend that the car has “character” which I regard as a costly failing. At my age I need a car more than ever before. I love my Skoda because it does what I ask of it. Also because it’s a mechanical marvel. Hard unromantic love.

Friday 4 August 2023

Passing question

Looks like an Olde Englyssh pub

R and VR, recently,  in some hostelry or other presently unremembered. Photographed by daughter OS (Occasional Speeder) who asks us: "Too sentimental? Why don't you decide?"

To Tone Deaf commenters we ask: "Why don't you decide?"

Wednesday 2 August 2023

Where we've been recently

Remote, just off the Massif Centrale

Visits to the bottle bank said it all. The avalanche of glassware - mainly from Affligem, Leffe and Kronenburg, those almighty breweries - announced we were back in France and intent on a hedonistic fortnight that would have no truck with informative ruins, eighteenth-century literature or political discourse.

Pool volley ball gave way to kerbies; you bounce
the ball on the pool edge and...

A BAS LES TORIES Unless there was a celebratory tinge. The results of two UK bye-elections were toasted with a bottle of Bollinger (€90) followed by a multi-layered red from the Chabanon winery in Montpeyroux (€58). I explained to the waitress that our high spirits were symbolic of a kick up the arse for the UK government, though in my enthusiasm I forgot the vulgar translation for "arse" and opted for the more demure "derrière" All quite oafish, I confess.

Best fruit/veg in the world

FOREIGN LANGUAGE TALK There was, of course, conversation with the natives. At a key-grinder's atelier I was shown a replacement strap for VR's wristwatch and given whispered advice on the price. I raised my hands in mock horror, crying out, "Mon Dieux, je suis en France!" A woman conducting a more Jane Austen-ish transaction down the counter, turned towards me, eyebrows arched, and laughed immoderately. Nationality unknown but suspected French. Given her middle-class, understated print dress I'm sure she regretted this laughter later in the day.

ENOUGH CASH? We are a family party of eight, four travelling by car, four by plane. Normally, rented villas become available at 4 pm on the initial Saturday, which means that there's a scramble for provisions after unloading the car. This villa, on the remote fringe of the Massif Centrale, was free from midday and we had time to spend on acquiring goodies. Time to spend cash too. The first supermarket buy came to €600-plus and a day later a similar sum was disbursed. I'd allocated what seemed like a large sum for this holiday which, given our age, might be our last in France. Would this "large sum" not be enough? All those bottles. But then there's always debt.

NOISE LEADS TO SEX The pool is, of course, essential with temperatures in the thirties  Meals are out-of-doors but family conversation is hindered by the incredible racket from the cicadas in the mature trees adjacent to the villa. Drink helps soften this noise somewhat and eventually the cicadas' love songs turn into the physical activity the songs had yearned for and which the insects perform quite  quietly.

Villa came with car park

PURGED Illness - for both of us - meant there were doubts about whether this holiday would come to pass. Emerging from the Channel Tunnel beyond the Calais suburbs brought with it a sense of rebirth. Of life on a higher level, especially given the stew of incompetence, infighting, greed and hopelessness we'd left behind.

LINGO’S WHAT COUNTS But why France? It has national flaws of its own, some of them it shares with the UK. For me language lies at the heart of the attraction. Wrestle with it, use it, succeed (occasionally) with it; a perpetual but seemingly worthwhile conflict. It's the language best suited for giving precise directions; a smallish matter but hinting at larger issues. French also accompanies the most acceptable national anthem I know:  not pompous, not outdated, genuinely stirring, brutal but modified with a soupçon of poetry. Unlike the Brits (and the Americans) who assume everyone should speak English, the French appreciate foreigners who make an effort to speak   their difficult tongue. I relish the opportunity.

The French are rather good
at roadside car parks. That's
PB emerging from sylvan glades

BELLY COMFORT French cuisine has deteriorated over the years, notably the home cooking that used to figure in certain modest restaurants. Pizza is no substitute.

French supermarkets compensate, especially at the meat, fresh fish, and fruit/veg counters. Availability is not stretched from worldwide sources; if nectarines are out of season they're not sold. And bread comes in all sorts of types, shapes and flavours. But supermarkets have another function: the expression of a large part of a country's culture.  If I'm not pressed (not always the case) I wander analytically, checking out what products  are important to the French  compared with things on the other side of the Channel. Amazingly, Hollandaise sauce - a French invention - was for a time only available in British supermarkets. French wine racks concentrate exhaustively on local vineyards, which is a good thing, but to ignore, totally, wines from the Antipodes and (a notch up in price) the USA suggests a degree of protectionism.

Villa's greatest asset

STYLISH CONSUMPTION Pavement (US: sidewalk) bar extensions are a French speciality, even in heavy overcoat weather. To drink inside a bar always seems like a wasted opportunity. As a spectator sport, nothing beats a sequence of expressos to the accompaniment of French drivers using their cars as tools of oppression.

PS I've bust the 300-word limit, but it's been a long time