I am moved by Lady Percy 's expression of love. CLICK HERE - see if you agree.
Otherwise my novels, short stories, verse, family, music, memories, vulgar interests, detestations,
responses, apologies. I hold posts to 300 words* having found less is better than more.
I re-comment on comments and re-re-re-comment on re-re-comments.
* One exception: short stories.

Friday, 17 February 2017

A new world; the New World

"Stay at the Y," I was told when I reported for work at my new employer in Pittsburgh, late December 1965. Y stood for Young Men's Christian Association.

The USA differed in everything. Britain, now 2500 miles away, had YMCAs but I had no idea what went on inside. Possibly hymn singing and the throwing of medicine balls. In Pittsburgh the Y (see pic) was an inexpensive hotel. But as I walked down the corridor to my surprisingly generous room, old men, clearly retired, languished in the doorways of their rooms. All wore plaid shirts and trousers that started just below their armpits; they watched me speculatively in my three-piece suit, an odd bird.

Later, after a walk, I returned and asked for my key. The receptionist was talking to a visitor about jitneys. The word was new to me and their conversation left me no wiser. What mattered, however, was the visitor's behaviour; regularly he spat decorously into a tin that had contained peanuts. When he left I asked the receptionist if the visitor was ill in some way. Lungs? He laughed and his explanation was impenetrably idiomatic; eventually I worked out the spitting was a sequel to chewing tobacco.

Then it was New Year's Day and the TV in the lounge showed American football, a sport I had never seen. Coverage of the game lasted four hours. Then, quickly, another game began, another four hours. Then another. Dimly I realised the first game had been on the Eastern Seaboard, the second in California, the third in Hawaii. Coverage had followed the availability of daylight.

In my room I opened my portable typewriter and started an airmail to VR, then still in Folkestone, UK, with her parents. I had lots to say.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Boxes ticked and unticked

Most of the things I wanted to do, I did.

Toured much of Britain by bike and by hitch-hiking in my youth. Entered journalism. Moved from Yorkshire to London. Married and the marriage endured. Regularly and intentionally changed jobs in London. Worked in the USA. Got job back in London; acquired a house. Became magazine editor. Became francophile and bought French holiday home. Retired early, financially comfortable. Found the stamina to write novels. Discovered singing. Kept hair.

Things left undone

Rock climbing. Wish I'd been better at it.

University. Might I have profited? Unrealistic, really, like wishing I'd been handsomer. In terms of formal education I was - and am - subnormal.

Would have appreciated a girlfriend while living in Yorkshire. A few months no more, providing social reassurance there was nothing wrong with me. London proved (to me at least) there wasn't but it's as if Yorkshire defeated me.

Finishing The Brothers Karamazov. Four goes, last one foundering on page 360. Yet I've read and re-read Proust and Joyce.

Conversational intolerance. But might a cure cost too much? Might I now be quieter (=moribund)?

Introspection. An ever-present addiction?

Writing verse. Could I improve or would that be (as I fear) self-delusion? 

Friday, 10 February 2017

The Q&A trade

Gummed-up eyelids caused me to misread the bedside clock and I got up an hour early. Not wanting to disturb VR by going back to bed, I took to the downstairs couch and let my mind wander. Thought about interviewing, the basis of my ex-job as a journalist.

I've interviewed hundreds. MDs, engineers, academics, travellers from the top deck of the Clapham omnibus, teachers, men of the cloth, bike racers powered and unpowered, software geeks. Brits, Germans, Americans, the French, Italians, Venezuelans, Antipodeans, Swedes (lots of them), Canucks. In Tokyo I questioned a logistics specialist via a translator, in Geneva - daringly - I interviewed the catering manageress of the World Health Organisation in French.

These weren't adversarial encounters as seen on telly, I was simply after info. Even so, skills are involved. You need to keep your mind open as well as your ears. To compare today’s revelation with a chance remark you overheard six months ago.

Notes are essential. You must keep track of what you're asking so that the answers build up naturally into the article you will eventually write. It's important not to come over as stupid since you'll usually be talking to experts. You have to show you know things, not in depth, shallow will do. I am naturally facetious but I made that work for me. You cannot afford to be shy.

In whodunnits the rule is Cherchez la femme. In my latter-day journalism it was Cherchez l'argent. Cash usually defines success and failure even in activities away from business; many are reticent about this and it's your job to prise them open.

If there’s a rapport it’s exhilarating, a bit like ice-dancing.

Could I do it now, old and enfeebled? I reckon. Wanna try me out?

Monday, 6 February 2017

My crutch

Several Tone Deaf commenters belong to religions and I trust this post isn't seen as antagonistic. It shouldn't be, really. Despite the -ism suffix, my atheism is a nothingness, not to be compared with revealed somethings, never to be preached, merely a practice I've rehearsed in my mind for a decade and which happens to suit me.

As a youth I was uncertain and fearful, needing help I said my prayers. In adolescence the uncertainties grew but for identifiable (ie, sexual) reasons, and the vague entity I'd prayed to seemed irrelevant amidst this feverishness. Much later I needed a mental accommodation that allowed me to listen to and enjoy the Agnus Dei while remaining detached from its implications.

I turned to Occam's Razor - the principle that in explaining a thing no more assumptions should be made than are necessary. In short, go for what's simple.

So: I am able to think and thought can lead to understanding. Increasing my understanding of things seems desirable, since it keeps mystery at bay. Mystery may have its aesthetic attractions but accepting it as a guiding principle doesn't help when there's a need to penetrate political change, to explain why some books are more truthful than others, to compile a theory for friendship, and to arrive at a solution for a defective central heating boiler.

But thought and understanding need to be tested for their validity. The next useful step is to express them as accurately as possible in permanent form. Otherwise writing. I am now in a position to tackle the Agnus Dei which I will, but not now. My priorities say Trump. 

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Oblivion denied

My Worst Journeys. An occasional series

We holidayed in New Zealand three times. Travelling there was hellish although eventually we reduced the torment somewhat by stopping off in Kuala Lumpur at a hotel with a swimming pool. Flight details are blurred since I ceased to be the person I am, became shrunken, reduced from three-dimensions to two - a poppadum dropped briefly into the frying pan, devoid of intellectual resources, desperate, inchoate. A victim of twenty-first century irony whereby modest affluence and advanced technology allowed me to undergo a form of torture previously limited to the rich.

The horrors started before take-off. Then, our carrier, Japanese Air Lines, had seating where the bum-to-kneecap dimension was 29 in. (vs. 32 in. on, say, United). As if my thighs were nailed into a cast-iron coffin. For fourteen hours.

Lunch consisted of dull western-style chicken and sushi. I opted to go native and sushi proved even duller - flavourless stodge. The small screen offered five US movies exquisitely chosen for their banality, laddishness, shouted dialogue and twanging background.

These objective terrors were bad but the subjective ones were worse. I needed an occupation that obliterated time. Of course I had books but books read solely for this purpose change subtly; they realise they are being betrayed and lose their power to distract. Later I acquired an MP3 player but engine noise overpowered the lower frequencies. Mindlessness is the key. Later still I was given a device which played Solitaire and nothing else; perfect, but by then we'd given up on New Zealand.

We are endowed with the ability to think constructively, to reflect, to guess at the future and to dwell on fond memories. Long-distance flight sets these abilities at nought. An arbitrary jail sentence.

Sunday, 29 January 2017

Family of show-offs

Once I left the newspaper I swore I'd had it with covering amateur dramatics, especially rigorously filleted plays which enjoyed Methodist seal of approval. But Zach's appearance in Rumpelstiltskin, a pantomime, demanded my presence.

Zach had two parts. As a bearded gnome, he slipped down his beard to make himself more audible and I could hear his confident young voice ringing out in the choruses. As the King's valet (left on pic) he was on-stage for ages but with little to say; his eyes roved as if he was imagining himself in a more demanding role - Iago, perhaps. Before the panto he'd played a Saturday afternoon soccer game, the following morning he was off to play rugby.

I once wrote a five-act docu-parody which I also directed and narrated. There were never more than three on the stage whereas here there were dozens - appalling logistics, but well managed. Confirmation too of what V said throughout last year: as with singing so with stage speeches, Brits must conquer a national tendency whereby what they utter fades away into nothingness.

Occasional Speeder, Zach's Mum, was Adult 3, a role forced upon her as a result of being Zach's chauffeur. As I earlier found out there's nothing like acting for creating a buzz. We all got home at about 10 pm and went to bed at 2 am. Much Green Room chat, much malicious gossip about those who became excessively "precious" during rehearsals, much giggling at risky improvisations.

I recalled my own acting debut at primary school, aged about 7, reciting The Grizzly-Izzly Bear, for a group of mothers, shabbily dressed, exhausted, able to forget the War for a few minutes. I didn’t forewarn my mother, she didn’t attend and there was a huge hole in my jumper elbow.

Thursday, 26 January 2017

Nobody said it'd be easy

As 2017 dawned V said lessons would become more serious. We started with four bars of  Agilita (agility) from Panofka's 24 Vocalises. A vocalise is dully defined as "a singing exercise using individual syllables or vowel sounds to develop flexibility and control of pitch and tone". Another definition includes "other meaningless vocal sounds" as if to emphasise the dullness.

Whereas vocalises are often used by pros, V among them, to warm up before recitals. One, by Rachmaninov, is so beautiful it has entered the international repertory.

Scales with a difference and much harder than they appear on the score.

You want hard? I've got hard. Recently I've been picking apart Mozart's song An Chloƫ, note by note. Somewhat faster than any of the twenty-plus songs I've previously tackled, also more obviously Mozartean, liberally speckled with curlicues. Here's Rouchswalwe's favourite (see pic), the sadly late

Lucia Popp

chosen because she takes it slightly slower. V has sung An Chloƫ publicly and Consonants! is pencilled on the score - with good reason. Hard yes, but gorgeous and that helps.

QUITE DIFFERENT Want a terrific wine at £12 (at least from The Wine Society)? Try Ventoux Epicure, Ch. Valcome. Vineyard in the lee of Mont Ventoux, graveyard of some in the Tour de France.