● 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.

Friday 29 September 2023

Not just a reporter

Malaya. Singapore is the pink bit, bottom right

I am standing on an observation tower guarding an RAF camp on the island of Singapore. To hand is a loaded rifle. Also a searchlight which I may swing this way and that. Dusk; the jungle beyond the camp is becoming darkly impenetrable.

Something moves. It's a skinny guy in a white shirt and short pants, down below on a narrow path. He’s moving towards me accompanied by three or four Asiatic cows almost as skinny as he is. I wash the searchlight over the cows, briefly lighting up their eyeballs. The skinny guy is resentful as if I’m interfering with his way of life. Which I suppose I am.

A hundred miles to the north, up the Malayan peninsula, shots are occasionally exchanged. The CTs (communist terrorists), surrounded by British Commonwealth troops and starved almost into skeletons, are coming to the end of their resistance. Soon the fighting will stop. Otherwise it’s still a war zone and sometimes an unlucky Brown Job – conscripted into two years’ national service, like me – will get his head shot off. Back home in the UK, months later, I take delivery of a General Service Medal with Malaya Clasp. Solid silver, no less. My name, rank (Junior Technician) and RAF number (2751052) inscribed round its edge.

Did I earn it? Well, I repaired VHF radios which allowed war-plane pilots to speak to each other. Implausibly this makes me a combatant.

I’m a long way from the action but terrorists are, of course, mobile. In the dark they could get quite close and I’d be a standing target atop my tower. But I'm bored rather than scared. No, I didn't deserve the medal. 

Wednesday 27 September 2023

Trying to be careful

I have said I’m prepared to write at any time (But not at the drop of a hat: I don’t do clichés) and am never short of subjects. If all else fails I recycle my thoughts. As a last resort, other people’s thoughts.

But am I willing to write about anything? Are there forbidden subjects? 

One springs to mind and that’s feminism. I would support feminism with my last breath but I’ve reluctantly concluded that my most useful contribution to this noble cause is silence. Why? I get feminism’s grammar, syntax and vocabulary wrong and from these errors some women have inferred I’m anti-feminist. Perhaps these critics are right; that these errors tell the truth about me. That I’m merely a self-appointed fan and my efforts aren’t worth a damn. Even if it doesn’t feel like that inside. Trouble is silence may be interpreted as support for the lads and morons. Tough.

I cannot write about warm milk. There’s this feeling of… ugh.

Oscar Wilde was asked if a certain book or literary passage was obscene (ie, does it tend to corrupt?). He replied, “It’s worse than that; it’s badly written.” Look, I’ve read Dan Brown, James Patterson, Jeffrey Archer and concluded I won’t read any more of their stuff. That’s it. Occasionally I make a snide reference but it’s purely accidental. Fish in a barrel – see what I mean about snide?

I’m an atheist yet I subscribe to T. S. Eliot’s observation: “Britain is predominantly irreligious but Brits are fascinated by those who are religious.” I try, but frequently fail, to avoid treating religion as a subject for argument.

I have my dislikes: Gamay grape wine, soccer fans facing the camera, easily verifiable lies of some politicians, many forms of patriotism. These are fair game  

Thursday 21 September 2023

Repetition can be good for you

Today I assembled this brunch for VR. The tomatoes are San Marzanos (shaped like, but not tasting of, tiny squashes). Below are slices of cucumber, dabbed with vinegar, on Ryvita spread with Philadelphia cream cheese. A barely unvarying meal which symbolises – unexpectedly - life as an invalid. VR and I are enduring ailments which will kill us off. Probably quite soon. No need for sympathy (Not that I’m presuming, y’unnerstand!); we are both in our eighties and there are worse ailments.

I shop, on foot and by car. Generally we stay in. Apart from intellectual divertissements days don’t differ. A routine sets in and one may hate this repeated pattern. That would be a grave mistake. Routines act like skeletons in our bodies, they hold the flesh in an upright position. Routines give our lives a metaphorical structure.

Note the pillbox; a fortnight’s supply for VR; each compartment labelled morning and evening for each day of the week. Like the brunch it represents one of a sequence of tasks I regularly perform. Forgetfulness is a concomitant of old age and I need reminding of my obligations. Collecting The Guardian, washing up, ordering stuff online, laundering, drying the laundry, watering the garden, renewing prescriptions, regularly interrogating VR about her preferences, searching Netflix and Amazon Prime for bearable entertainment (more burdensome than you might imagine), opening and closing windows according to the weather, washing myself more frequently, staying alert for deliveries, forcing medical sources into conversation, maintaining the flow of family birthday presents. There’s more but you get the idea.

Some might regard routine as a prison. I am reassured by each Job-Done tick, a happy progression now in the past. Bed at 11.45 pm always seems well earned. No variations? Our talk does that.

Tuesday 19 September 2023

Hank, me and pain

APOLOGY The post below is about me, but Henry (Purcell) deserves a mention too.

Henry belongs to a band of composers who died young (Schubert, Mozart, Chopin), wrote prolifically, and went on to worldwide fame. There's a Henry Purcell Society in Boston, Mass, for instance. 

Born in Devil's Acre, London ("a notorious slum") in 1659 he started composing aged nine, wrote in many genres including a handful of operas and provided music for 42 plays. No later England-born composers approached his fame until Vaughan Williams, Holst, Walton and Britten, all working in the twentieth century. 

His tri-centennial anniversary was marked by the Royal Mail with a commemorative stamp in the Eminent Britons series. Buried in Westminster Abbey under this elegant tribute: Here lyes Henry Purcell Esq., who left this life and is gone to that Blessed Place where only His harmony can be exceeded.

322 weeks ago I had my first singing lesson.That's seven and two-thirds years. There’ve been gaps but not many. Missing a lesson is like losing one’s trousers in Trafalgar Square. Feeling incomplete

Early on I yearned to sing duets with a soprano. V obliged with We’ll Gather Lilacs, (Operetta, ugh! But not too taxing.) Alas, my voice lacked certainty; V’s trained voice, even reduced to whisper, pulled me off my baritone line. Lilacs was shelved.

I made better progress with Bei Männern from Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute. For technical reasons this wasn’t a true test.

Finally a real duet: Purcell’s My Dearest, My Fairest. The first twenty bars are hard but – still a beginner and practising alone at home (Admittedly difficult with a duet!) - I bodged them, rushing on to passages I fondly imagined were easier. Yet after two or three more weeks with V, the work was “sidled” away. No other word. Music I loved and I was heart-slufted (West Yorkshire idiom for “cast down in sorrow”).

But I didn’t protest. Students don’t argue with the source of light. Often V’s reasons are hidden, and they always work out. We’ve resumed with MDMF. Under the microscope, crotchet by crotchet. Hard repetitive work. The difference being I’m a big boy now. MDMF was once a mere song for two, now I dimly perceive it as the subtlest of masterpieces. I make endless mistakes but as V wryly says: “Purcell’s always going to be difficult.”

Mistakes are, after all, prior evidence of learning. The structure is now clear, something to aim at. More important I have an inkling of Purcell’s “tone of voice”. You’d hate to hear me singing MDMF with V but my pain is necessary. On y va.

THIS is what it should sound like

Friday 15 September 2023

The (less than magnificent) seven

I didn't know, until today, that making a list of the Seven Deadly Sins (Envy, Gluttony, Greed (or Avarice), Lust, Pride, Sloth, Wrath.) is or was a Christian practice. A moment's reflection... Thus I may be ignorant which - mercifully - isn't one of the Sinful Septet.

To me sins become dangerous when considered as single words. Their meanings and implications are multifarious; they need qualification. 

Pride. I may be proud of an act of charity, but not of trying to defeat someone in argument. 

Envy. I envy no one. Even if I openly accept I boast, show off, am frequently intolerant, love expensive wine more than cheap wine, don't envy the late Michael O'Shea who was married to the late Virginia Mayo, am criminally forgetful, and lots more. Question: But should I want to be more like Sir David Attenborough, James Joyce and/or Franz Schubert?

Gluttony. Once I gorged, now, in old age, hardly at all; even Hereford-made sausages. 

Avarice. Hands-up confession: I scan our growing savings account as if it were a poem.

Lust. Depends on detectable evidence. I may look pleasurably at a photo of the late Virginia Mayo but am horrified at even imagining the role of stalker.

Wrath. The present UK government angers me but wrath suggests a visible and/or audible display, a waste of energy. I'd rather analyse, give reasons, arrive at unexpected conclusions. From which wrath may be inferred, of course, but there are better words.

Sloth. I previously got domestic jobs done quickly; now I postpone them. In defence, at 88, I lack energy. Intellectual sloth, however, includes refusing to pursue facts and deserves contempt.

Sunday 10 September 2023

The past revisited 2

I have finished reading the carbon-copy MS of the novel I wrote fifty years ago, first mentioned in my earlier post The Past Revisited 1. And I’m astounded. Bowled over. Bouleversé, as the French say.

But is anyone likely to believe me?

Back in the mid-seventies the MS was submitted to my agent. He didn’t like it. Perhaps he circulated it to publishers, perhaps not. I got on with writing other stuff. The weighty folder was shelved and forgotten. A half century elapsed. Two weeks ago I decided to re-read it

Most people would expect I’d forgotten many details. Fact is, I’d forgotten everything. Absolutely. The name of the central character (Ormerod). His previous job and his new one. His difficulties. His affairs with the daughter of a wealthy family and a complex “other woman”. The point where his education informed his new life. Where morality mingled with commercial imperatives. Plus the differences between the “haves” and “have nots” in a northern British city.

All gone.

Stylistically the story starts badly, over-wordy and inert. Then it gets tighter, the language more vivid. More factually interesting. A story, yes, but proof I was improving. Growing up. All just my opinion, of course

The final fifty pages were – I speak advisedly – terrific. An intricately clashing contrast between two people working for a living. With hard, well-reasoned technology at the centre. I have never subsequently written any plotline as complex or as well controlled. Or as thrilling.  The background being the city’s abattoir; the doomed animals playing their part.

The agent was right. The story is unpublishable. And I lack the time or the good health to rectify its faults. Like reading a tombstone inscription before the funeral.

Of course, you’ve only my word for it.

Tuesday 5 September 2023

The past revisited 1

But the post is unillustratable and these pics represent
an important gardening discovery. Why hang the hose
loosely, as above, when I have an installed coiler drum,
below. A tightly wound hose can take twenty minute to
de-kink; hung loosely the kinks are kept to a minimum

Something unique is happening to me. Unique in its precise sense: Unprecedented. Singular. Without like or equal.

I’m reading a 317-page novel written over fifty years ago. No big deal about that. A man in his early twenties with his professional life mapped out into the foreseeable future decides to opt for something entirely different. Not exactly a revolutionary plot base.

The style is initially rather stodgy and individual scenes may last fifteen pages or more. For variety’s sake, perhaps, some scenes are rendered in dialogue, like a play.

As the story moves on, the lengthy scenes seem more justifiable. Two protean figures emerge: the youth’s father and the father of the youth’s girlfriend. Both are wealthy, skilled at what they do, successful and confident. Both have opinions about his life-changing decision but are neither condemnatory nor entirely enthusiastic.

By now I’m a third through the novel, the language has improved and original ideas spring out of what is said. I am drawn into the story. I want to know what happens next and – wait for it! – I have no idea how things will be resolved.

None of the above suggests anything unique.

What does make it unique is that I wrote the novel.