● 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.

Wednesday 29 November 2023

Time as a shape

Which subject did you hate most at school? Maths is one popular (unpopular?) candidate. Transatlantic note: We Brits add a terminal s to maths; the US doesn’t. Doesn’t dare, possibly from lack of confidence. Discuss. 

Why might maths be so hateful? Well, it’s a language and very precise. When we speak English we don’t always get it right first time. We resort to “er” and “um”. There are none of these in maths. There’s only the right way.

But, if my experience is anything to go by, there is one form of maths that’s slightly more congenial - geometry. You can see why. Algebra, for instance, is all numerical theory whereas geometry is lines, angles, circles. Things we can recognise and draw. More reassuring.

Which brings me to wristwatches. VR bought me an elegant (and expensive) Longines for a birthday thirty years ago. I love it. Alas, my family responsibilities have recently grown and I now need to tell time at night in the dark. The Longines can’t do this and thus I wear a cheapo Casio-type with a light feature.

A major difference: the Longines expresses time with hands and a clockface (ie, analogue display), the cheapo with numbers (ie, digital display).

Shelving the Longines has deprived me of more than elegance. For me analogue time is often more immediate; I recognise analogue time via the disposition of the hands. In effect, by the shape they form,. Digital time requires my mind to do a sort of calculation.

Shapes are meat and drink to geometry. To which, it seems, I’m more responsive.

Do shapes instinctively mean more to you than numbers?

Sunday 26 November 2023

Tone Deaf: New T&C

Now under new Reduced-Subject regime. Tone Deaf and – before it – Works Well are and were out of step. Why, I was asked, do I limit posts to 300 words? The reasons were complicated and related to my non-retired life. But I did have a quickie response: writing too much is more likely to draw complaints than writing too little. 

But that rule broke down re. my blog comments. Often these exceeded 300 words. And now, following my policy announcement about reducing the range of subjects I write about (see Welcome to Vacant Horizons) this has been brought to my attention. Feebly I protested; might comment length be an indication of my interest? But secretly I acknowledged nobody loves a blabbermouth.

Best to comment as if responding by telegram (US: cable) and paying for each word. We’ll see.

For those who’d rather see less than more, the above three paras amount to 138 words. Possible solution: verse is terse. 

Policy query: No pic to this post. Do pix count as words? 

Friday 24 November 2023

Welcome to vacant horizons

Been reading my posts, going way back. Not from self-love but to check out where I went wrong. Lengthy complicated sentences were one fault, breathless displays of wasted energy another, and – a grievous and unexpected discovery – REPETITION. A dozen or so subjects over and over. Those at least can be addressed.

From now on Tone Deaf posts will be shriven of: journalism, tortured adolescence, my impact on the USA and vice versa, singing lessons, forms of transportation, cancer and its implications, wine, ski-ing, rock climbing, swimming, reports of progress with fiction, DIY, language scrutiny, left-wing politics, family relationships and francophilia.

Already I feel refreshed.

Regular readers - a shrunken group - may wonder what’s left bar brief smoke signals relating to personal change. Having a leg amputated, for instance. Beyond that, a moment’s reflection reveals a billion other things and I’ll go further. Purged, I’ll look only at new areas.

Does this sound too radical? Think of it as a late-life graduation exam. I’m pleased (over-pleased, many would say) to call myself an ex-professional writer. Which should cut out picking material for my own benefit. Thus: this week, 300 words on transubstantiation; next week, culinary justifications for using saffron.

I’ll try hard not to cheat. I’ll not bulk out the prose with egregious lists, fill space with lengthy quotes by others, or invent unnecessary sentences employing the vocative case. The style will be taut and, I hope, hypnotic. I’ll rate it a success if readers start asking: When is he going to trip over himself?

Mind you, it’s possible there’ll be no readers.

Thursday 23 November 2023

Dark thoughts

It’s just after three in the morning. I can’t sleep. As I’ve got older writing has become something of a therapy. So here I am. Wondering where the dead hours will take me.

Not towards fiction, however; that’s far too intense an activity and I may have lost the urge. Four novels completed, thirty-plus short stories. I’ve pecked at my fifth novel, having reached 60,000 words, but I can’t see an ending and it’s languished for several years.

The blog presently consists of 1916 posts; at 300 words a pop that’s rather more than half a million words. Given I started in 2008, not a lot. As a reporter working mainly for a broadsheet weekly I could write 1000 words in an hour straight on to the typewriter.

The blog has taken some twists and turns. Under the title Works Well I devoted myself to broad technology but found it too restrictive and went general. In November 2011 I announced I was ceasing blogging, but resumed twenty-four later. Why? Perhaps I was imitating the courtship routines of a pouter pigeon.

Changed my blogonym from Barrett Bonden (A bosun in O’Brien’s Aubrey-Maturin series of novels) to Lorenzo da Ponte (Mozart’s librettist) when I decided I would write exclusively about music. Ill-advisedly the blog became Tone Deaf. Nobody was much interested. Went general again.

As an ex-hack I know a little about quite a lot. Which means I will never run out of material. Nor do I need the stimulus of “events” in my life. When in doubt float an idea. Once I compiled a list of a hundred written works that had interested me.

In the end the posts are about me. I am not important enough to warrant an autobiography but the skeleton’s here. May I now sleep? 

Monday 20 November 2023

Getting away with very little

Andouillettes; best say they're misunderstood

The good news from Mr Blazej, (see “Early Christmas card…”) triggered a winter problem: booking a holiday villa for next year. Since several family members will accompany us this is costly. Also there’s time enough for good news to become bad news in the interim. When do I take the plunge?

Since I’m paying, I choose, and for the last two decades it’s been France. Lack of imagination? No; I get to speak French. Others loll on beaches, get drunk on cheap wine, marvel at the countryside, discover that andouillettes don’t bear contemplation, tour the soccer stadia, exercise their culinary skills… I do the parly-voo.

Obviously to show off, you conclude. But here’s the thing. During those twenty years perhaps a dozen French people, from various strata of society, have said I speak French well. Since language has been my tool of trade I can say, with certainty, they were wrong. Close-up my French is fairly primitive; at best stiffly formal.

I’m sure about this because I’ve taken weekly lessons for thirty years and know when progress bogged down. Not all French people are articulate; if they were they’d say I’ve entertained them with a linguistic competence halfway between O-level and A-level. 

More particularly I’ve made them laugh. Laughing, they’re less likely to nit-pick about the subjunctive.

Knowing me as you do, you’ll have realised I’m not abasing myself here. What I do is a rare skill and I’m damn well proud of it. On one occasion, and with time to spare, I tried to explain the situation to a Frenchman far better educated than I was. Silence happened. Accepting my premise would have made him look a fool. Disagreement would be based on an untruth. We went our separate ways.

Might this be cruelty?

Saturday 18 November 2023

Bricks conquered

The tree roots saga (see previous post bar one) ended on a far happier note than I had any right to expect.

As the earlier photo shows I removed the “heaved” bricks, exposed the thrusting root and cut it free from the tree. Leaving things overnight. I suspected re-installing the bricks would be difficult and so it was. Although I was returning the bricks to the spaces they’d previously occupied all were a very tight fit. Much hammering ensued and I contrived to break three bricks.

The job was completed, but horribly. Many bricks on different levels. I knew I’d have to re-do it. I devised a plan which I’m too ashamed to summarise – it would have assuredly failed. Luckily it wasn’t needed.

I awoke this morning to a familiar noise, a thumping and a bumping. That sounded like… but, why and how? Looked out of the bedroom window. All the unlevel bricks had been uprooted and Wonder Gardener Carl was putting things to rights. Two hours it took and, I swear, you couldn’t see the joins.

Carl is from South Africa and no stranger to Tone Deaf. Looking for permanent work in the UK (which, happily, he has now found) he made do with DIY at the highest level, utterly transforming my garden. Once he found salaried work I reluctantly ceased calling on him; feeling he had other fish to fry.

But Carl learned of my current problem, inspected it without my knowledge, saw its incompetence, then waved his magic wand. And lo! Time for him get in a round of golf.

And I may give myself up to leisure.   

Wednesday 15 November 2023

The French call it deracination

When we moved into our present house there was a miserable patch of grass in front. Neither decorative nor useful. Feeling flush (ie, rich as Croesus) I had the whole area, including the double-width driveway, bricked over.  Gave my mower to the Deserving Poor of the suburb.

Gardening problem solved. But Nature has a way biting back. Weeds started sprouting from the gaps between the bricks. After various research projects impelled by a growing sense of anger I got that one licked.

Only to be presented with a more sinister threat. The so-called front garden has always boasted a much-wounded tree, one side devoted to a deep and hideous scar, four feet long. Nothing much was expected of this invalid but over the years it has become much more treelike. Leaves and such. Alas, it was also flourishing below. Roots, sensing the presence of water in a drain access, edged towards the house.

Thrusting up the brick surfaces, installed with the express intent of inhibiting nature. Must I always be at war with greenery?

Something had to be done but I dithered. Definitely lacking confidence. Tried to enlist the help of a neighbour but he too dithered. The Guardian’s post-lunch easy crossword beckoned. And then an email from daughter Occasional Speeder. She would come over tomorrow to discuss the knotty Meat-at-Christmas project and would cook tomorrow’s evening meal, normally my job. Joy! But how might I react to the sudden availability of extra energy?

The above photo provides half the answer.

Yes, the tree may well die. But not immediately.

Sunday 12 November 2023


I’m an atheist and, thus, disinclined to believe in the supernatural. I explore various happenings as an individual not as a member of a group and/or according to the group’s rules.

Atheism tends to be misunderstood. I would no more try to “convert” anyone than suggest they copy my accent. My atheism is for me alone.

Atheism is difficult; it requires me to accommodate contradictions. I am thrilled by The Goldberg Variations, secular piano music, yet the same composer created the Mass in B Minor. I have read and re-read The Sword of Honour trilogy written by a devout catholic. I regard Raphael’s Madonna and Child as a masterpiece. I agree with much literary criticism by Rowan Williams, the now retired Archbishop of Canterbury.

Religious people say, when ill, they turn to their god. What do I do then? I suppose I rationalise. Ask: Am I entitled to complain? Is complaint logical?

Atheism encourages me to doubt certainty and knowledge of science helps. Scientific truth is, ultimately, provisional. Informed disputes are welcome. Think of Newton modifying Descartes and Bohr/Heisenberg modifying Newton. Non-scientists see radical scientific developments as flashes of intellectual lightning; more often they are another spadeful of vegetation on the compost heap.

I’ve even experienced such spadefuls myself. No verse, short story nor novel I’ve written could be even regarded as consistently competent, Yet, on re-reading, I may take pride in a combination of words, a neat choice of verb, or an unexpected divergence in the plot. Whence came these details? They are the result of writing, revising and re-writing. Over and over

I have good and interesting friends who “believe”. Normally I only raise the subject in response to proselytising forays. Atheism, properly pursued, is demanding. I struggle on.

Monday 6 November 2023

Snaps from a Box Brownie


Aversion. I hated my first name. Would have liked Tank (picked up from Wizard); sounded more masculine. I shudder at this now.

Post-divorce 1. My Dad got to entertain his three sons on Sunday afternoons. Mostly he drove us somewhere dull, read the newspaper, then dozed. Occasionally he visited an antiques dealer friend and on one such occasion I took my trumpet. Uninvited I played a hymn tune. To faint applause.

Post-divorce 2. Or we visited Grannie R, wearing her hat, waiting to be driven to Idle Baptist Church. Grannie R was forgetful, tended to repeat anecdotes. Cruelly, my Dad drew her attention to this; I admit I too was irritated. Luckily we’re rarely visited here in Hereford; so no poetic justice.

Mendicancy at the Telegraph. At Christmas it was traditional for one of the three tea-boys to beg for cash from the editorial staff. As senior tea-boy I found this demeaning, adding, “Besides there are plenty of them (ie, journalists) I don’t like.” Fred, the beloved sub-editor and who taught me much, stood in for me.

Getting used to London’s underground system. My first magazine job in the Great Wen; I was always late and knew the commissionaire took the names of latecomers. Took to entering the offices by the back door. Not knowing this was monitored by another – albeit invisible – commissionaire.

Sartorial blockage. I wore delicate elastic-sided boots at my first US job. It snowed and the company boss growlingly commanded I buy galoshes. In the UK galoshes are worn by the effete, the very old or the enfeebled so I ignored him. A week later I heard a voice, “Still no galoshes.” My work colleagues were horrified. “Disobeying the Old Man. Oh-oh.” Give the bastard credit; he’d hired me because I was foreign.

Saturday 4 November 2023

Slow down; delicacy ahead

Occasionally I’m paid a compliment by commenters to Tone Deaf. Since I don’t set out to be likeable (or unlikeable, for that matter), I’m always surprised and, of course, grateful. Recently one commenter went further, devoting a whole post to me. Went further still by acting on something I’d written. So I’m even more surprised and even more grateful

I won’t identify the commenter or the subject now since this raises a related matter: How does one respond to written compliments? Note the adjective; spoken compliments are another breed of fish.

Easy, say some. Here starts sadness. Easy writing is usually easy because it lacks even a smidgeon of thought. The same tired phrases, the same over-used vocabulary – suggesting a writer glad to be done with a tiresome task. Even if this is not the case

Of course the compliment may be expressed as cliché. But suppose it’s well thought-out, inventively expressed, revelatory, and/or – Well, damnit! – useful? Proof of effort dissipated.

It seems only right the recipient should match that level of effort. One general rule is to ignore first reactions. They may work but only after they’ve been thoroughly tested.

I emphasised “written”. One failing concerns the phrase “well written” since it’s far too vague. Stylish? Novel? Factual? Incidentally amusing? Morally right? Courageous?

An initial priority is for the recipient to re-capture the compliment’s “effect”. Much, much harder than it sounds. Some compliments may still be worthwhile while carrying some flattery.

A peculiarly English response is to introduce a negative tone. Agree partially but point to a related defect in the recipient. The “Yes, but…” technique.

And how about disagreeing entirely with the points made while appreciating the existence of the compliment.

Confession: I have no 100% answer. Try me out with a compliment (Joke.)

Friday 3 November 2023

And then there was light - again

“Genius is an infinite capacity for taking pains.” Thomas Carlyle said it; yesterday I saw it in action.

Abruptly we were without power to our upstairs light circuit. The local guy was quite young, he arrived in shorts, wearing a beanie on his head. Came at 9 AM, left at 1 PM.

All the easy options revealed nothing; now the grind. Four bedrooms, one bathroom, one en suite loo and a landing. All had overhead lights, some more than one. Each ceiling fitting was dismantled with full power off, checked with power on, power switched off, move on to the next. The consumer unit (ie, the fuse-box) is in the garage. Up and down the stairs he went. VR and I sat in the lounge lit by its own circuit. Reading uneasily as the centrally controlled lights there went on and off.  Twenty times? Thirty times?

At 11 AM I asked if he wanted coffee. Turned out he’d had a quick bite in his van. He’d tracked down the part of the circuit at fault. But it was in the wiring, not at the ceiling fitting. No easy solution. Up into the loft he went.

Midday the burglar alarm tweeted, When power was lost it had switched to its battery which had discharged. Power was now getting through. I went up to congratulate him. He shrugged. A wire had been trapped when floor-boards were fitted in the loft. About ten years ago!

Afterwards I noticed the bathroom dome lights. Years ago wasps had crawled into the domes and been roasted. I’d delayed. He’d cleaned out their corpses.

Pure routine, you might say. I’d say cool persistence. The lengthy National Covid Enquiry is currently revealing hideous government incompetence. He could give them lessons. Never knew his name. 

Wednesday 1 November 2023

Was it a transaction or charity?

Three ones and one two

VR and I live like hermits. We don’t get out; new acquaintances are rare to non-existent; significant conversations are via Skype rather than face to face. Blame illness and the inertia of old age.

Yesterday this routine was shattered – charmingly.

I was considering a problem in the upper-floor lighting circuit and the door-bell rang. Outside were two ten-ish children, boy and girl, friendly, animated, even well-dressed. I said haltingly, “This is to do with… er…um… Halloween?”

They pointed to a sign I’d put over my bell-push. “We are deaf. Please use the bell.” Most neighbours were showing Halloween non-participation statements and I’ve usually done it myself. This year I forgot; my sign had seemed encouraging.

I said, “Trouble is I’ve got no cash.” Smiling they shook their heads. No cash. I reminisced. In my UK youth Halloween (Guy Fawkes Night then) was preceded by Mischief Night. Tricks on neighbours. Writing on car windscreens with candles. Unhooking a garden gate and hanging it on a lamppost. My two visitors listened attentively.

Then I recalled Halloween in the US. “I don’t even have any sweets.” But they weren’t fazed. “That’s all right,” they said cheerfully. I rambled on; they were so agreeable, those kids. Then a thought. I returned with a bag of VR’s fruit pastilles. The kids seemed overwhelmed, reluctant to take the bag. Finally it was over.

Again the door-bell. Same two kids, same smiles, each holding something small. Money! Thrusting six pounds ($7.11) at me. “What for?” I asked, flabbergasted. “It was a whole bag,” they said. “It’s all the wrong way round,” I said.

I tried to refuse, how I tried. Laughing they insisted. Eventually the girl reached past me and put the coins on the hall table. Bid me goodbye

And there the cash still lies.