● 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.

Sunday 29 October 2023

Trying to fan the spark

Growing old can be expressed musically as a diminuendo of life expectancy. Actually it’s more (or possibly less) than that: it’s a list of things one can no longer do. Poignant and ever-growing.

I can no longer: ski, do distance swimming, find solutions to quite simple DIY tasks, resist draughts, read omnivorously rather than specifically (with a tendency towards re-reading), find much pleasure in buying expensive wine, take VR to art classes because she has had to give up art, visit Christmas markets in Germany, find a French teacher who can meet my exacting standards, attend music recitals in Birmingham, face shopping at Tesco with a cheerful mien, tolerate the dreadful treadmill of laundering and drying clothes, feel inclined to wash the car, sleep continuously every night, regard the vacuum cleaner with anything other than loathing, accurately remember time-spans of various periods in my life, usefully vary the inevitably simple meals I prepare for VR.

I could go on. 

But let’s be brief. My life has become limited as has my expectation of anything new. And this affects my writing as I have discovered when I read my posts of the earlier oughties. Understand, I don’t aim to record newness (a very limited objective), I look for newness to trigger my imagination, send me off down untravelled byways.

Singing lessons are the exception; for me that is, but not for others. It’s a discipline (which I welcome) but the experience is private, gradual and, more or less, unconvertible.

I do chat en route to Tesco but the common bonds tend to be familiar rather than unexpected.

Imagination is at the heart of writing but she’s flirtatious. She comes and goes. I must learn to make myself more inviting. Got my hair cut recently. There’s new.

Wednesday 25 October 2023

Moral: stay away from mirrors

The tilt that creates the sneer.
Would suit a Pantomime Villain

Did you want proof?
A hand big enough to blot out a keyboard

Did you know hair grows at about half an inch a year? Depending on whether your hair’s thick or thin. “So what’s my hair?” I asked scissorswoman extraordinaire Shara. “O definitely thick,” she said. Unthinking I murmured, “Thick hair, thick head.” Shara’s immediate protests of sympathy told me I’d gone too far, as I often do. As various readers of Tone Deaf will confirm. “Blunt,” is Avus’s judgement and others, silent on the matter, would probably opt for something stronger. As this para proves I don’t stop at insulting others

These days, invalidism has immobilised the Robinsons and our social life – never much of a feature – is almost non-existent. Take away rare visits from relations and it would be zero. Thus, having my hair cut for socio-aesthetic reasons would be a waste of time. But the finger points warningly when my forelock brushes against my eyeball. Quite sickening.

In the next chair VR was receiving serious coiffeuresque attention, leaving me time to examine myself in a large mirror. Something I rarely do. Shaving doesn’t count since, then, I’m concentrating on not slashing myself to ribbons. 

I noted that the 2021 mouth op left a downward tilt at the left-hand end of my lips. This makes me look entirely sackless. (Good word, that; should use it more.) As if I’m sneering at nothing. No doubt I deserve this late transformation.

But I also discovered my hands are disproportionately huge. I never knew. Two great bunches of bananas clearly devoid of any manual ability. The hands of a strangler? Nah. More the mitts of a self-taught burglar caught trying vainly to pick a lock. “I’m innocent, officer.  There was no chance I would ever have succeeded.”

Others in the salon were being prettied. Me? “The before” before “The after”.

Sunday 22 October 2023

A sort of announcement, with apology

Just finished verse that may – just – qualify as a poem. Previously I’ve only claimed to write verse at best. More often closer to doggerel. But this one flows, has something serious to say but includes humour, is slightly longer than usual, sustains its theme throughout and ends on a note that accurately reflects how I see myself.

Seven six-line quatrains in iambic pentameter (What else?)  with, I hope, all the stresses in the right place. I think my late friend Joe and an even more attentive critic (in the best sense), his brother Ken, also dead, would have approved. 

Perhaps even Lucy who, happily, is alive and who has taken a progressive view of what I’ve written would also give me the nod. Her recent responses were the most rigorous: well-considered praise (ie, the sort I recognise as appropriate, technical and truthful) for an unexpected effort which gained wider circulation than this blog; dispassionate condemnation of a short story which I was considering including in my collection, Two Homelands, and which I subsequently left out on her judgment.

I seem to be making a meal out of this. Fact is I came very late to reading and writing poetry - within my life as a blogger. With no time to take instruction I rushed at it. About fifty pieces, three of which say something poetically. Otherwise the quality is variable and tending toward rubbish.

So why, you will ask, have I not posted this most recent piece instead of blathering? Left it to your judgment? I promise I will. Trouble is it’s what’s called an occasional piece and it awaits its occasion. Persiflage continues.

Monday 16 October 2023

Is it? Will it?

Old age discourages us from pondering the future. So let’s turn time upside down and start from the other end - our youth.

One difficulty: in those dim days our future seemed no further than the next weekend. Or our birthday. If we ever considered the future it was to believe we were going to beat the system and live for ever.

That was me, aged ten. Then I woke up about midnight in the antique stillness of my grandparents’ house. Emerging from a dream in which I lay in a grave with pedestrians passing by, not caring about my entombment. Me! The centre of the universe! (ie, the universe as I knew it). I think I cried.

Oddly, now death is much closer I’m less perturbed. I’d expect pedestrians to be unconcerned.

Occasionally I did think ahead, but in personal terms. Eventually I would have money and thus buy a bike. Whence, I knew not. But money would arrive, I’d be an adult and adults had money. It was the rule.

Adolescence forced me to blank out the future. Convinced I would never find favour in any young woman’s eyes. An unbearable nothingess. Greatly daring I whispered an invitation to a young woman I didn’t particularly like. And was told she would be washing her hair. To wit: “Drop dead”.

Youth ended when I decided to create a future: finding work in the USA. The project lasted a year and, somehow, I never doubted it would happen. When it did, acquaintances seemed astonished and envious. But why wasn’t I exhilarated when I stepped off the plane at Kennedy?

Simply, the future had become the present and the present is merely a string of tasks which need addressing. 

Tuesday 10 October 2023

Using up the kilowatts

Ski-ing had to end somewhere and perhaps 
here is as good a place as any. Switzerland
on this side, Italy beyond. GlΓΌhwein to
warm the cockles of your heart.

Mountains have always been my favourite natural backdrop. I read about them long before I was old enough or – independent enough – to use them. First it was rocky outcrops near home. After four weeks with the Outward Bound Mountain School I graduated to longer climbs in the Lake District.

Climbing lapsed when I moved to London and got married. Round about 1978, in my early forties, I had enough money to consider the Alps but for various reasons I turned to ski-ing. Rhapsodising about it right up to 2007 when, aged 72, on the lower slopes of that most mountain-like mountain, the Matterhorn, I was made to realise it was all over. Finito. The body couldn’t take it any longer.

But here’s the thing. Ski-ing is a sport but it’s also physics. An energy transaction and that too is part of its charm.

Ski-ing requires us to buy energy. Down in the valley we’re unaware of the need, clumping around, our boots returning to earth in an unregarded way. But then we spend money (a shocking amount these days, I’m afraid) and emerge at the vertiginous top of the ski-lift, the lower temperature sawing at our cheeks. Below is a delicious slope which is also our bank statement. And hey! We’re temporarily in credit. Gravity smiles up at us and says: spend me.

No engine needed. Not even the beneficial effects of airflow. We may spend our credit very quickly in a direct Schuss, or more slowly, swinging from left to right to left in a series of elegantly contrived curves. Dancing, if you will; where style outranks the distance travelled. The peaks rush past and we are exhilarated. 

Zero quickly arrives in the right-hand column. All gone. But we’ve moved and have been moved.  

Sunday 8 October 2023

La langue et toujours la langue


You could say the French house
lacked presence. No problem,
I was there for what's spoken

The house we owned in France in the nineties was old, thick-walled and dilapidated, on a noisy main road and in an unfashionable and somewhat charmless village. By unfashionable I mean a million miles from being a resort. To me resorts are typically by the sea, the residents are greedy and the visitors whine a lot.

Unfashionable suited me fine. For one thing the house was cheap, very cheap. For another nobody there spoke English, there was no need; great, since I wanted to practice my French.

How does one practice a second language? Simple, you initiate conversation. The easiest way is to ask questions.

I was tidying up my wretched garden, fifty metres away from the house down the noisy road. An elderly man stopped by and said something bland. Perhaps concerning the weather, a subject I refuse to discuss at any time and in any country. Instead, I said, “Hey, did you watch yesterday’s stage of the Tour de France?”

He nodded and I was away, chattering breathlessly. A terrific result! French racers doing better than expected! Such steep gradients!

I was an Anglo who spoke about the Tour in French. He listened, commented, I responded. Then he asked me if I’d like to watch that day’s TV coverage of the Tour in his house. Obviously he was lonely but not many previously unknown Anglos receive that invitation in France.

Another trick. Talk conventionally then add something unexpected at the end. “In France the French are so good at giving directions. Geographically knowledgeable. Very precise, very concise. But I have to be careful when I speak to French women. Given I’m such an unstylish Brit.”

The French like to hold differing opinions. So you can guess what their reply to that is. What it has to be. 

Tuesday 3 October 2023

To avoid confusion...

Tennant: More than "the Doctor"

I may be the only person in Britain who’s never seen a single episode of the TV series, Dr Who. And since Dr Who dates back to TV’s b&w era I’ve had to work hard to avoid it. Tell the truth, I always thought it was for kids.

I need to make this clear. On Sunday VR and I watched Hamlet (a play by William Shakespeare many find a trifle difficult) in which the title role was played by David Tennant. You would irritate me profoundly if you thought we watched it because David Tennant also played Dr Who.

From which you may conclude – justifiably – I am an intellectual snob. What, I would ask, has taken you so long?

In fact I “collect” Hamlets. And if I risked my snobbism with David Tennant (he was, coincidentally, terrific) how about Mel Gibson (surprisingly good)? Or Maxine Peake, a leftward-leaning British actress whom I otherwise admire but not – it gives great pain to say so – as the Prince of Denmark.

Anyone for Ethan Hawke? I have the DVD.

I started as a teenager when (I think) I heard a full BBC radio version – all 4½ hours – with Christopher Plummer. Wasn’t he in a famous musical?* Also on radio: Sir John Gielgud.

More recently Sir Kenneth Branagh and Benedict Cumberbatch. The most unusual? Gregor Kozintsev in a 1964 movie filmed in Russian. But with sub-titles.

Why Hamlet? All those hours! Gotta be more than snobbism. It is, of course. It keeps on giving.

The best lines?

How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable,
Seem to me all the uses of this world!
Fie on’t! ah fie! ’tis an unweeded garden,
That grows to seed; things rank and gross in nature
Possess it merely.

Bless you Bill. Another non-gardener.

* I jest, I jest