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.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Hot and sticky (keys)

I wrote this short story on holiday in France. The heat (up to 39 deg C) and the nearness of the keys on the mini-laptop’s keyboard caused many repetitive and frustrating typing errors, interfering profoundly with what I wanted to say. I rewrote it back in Hereford in comparative coolth and on my wonderful Cherry keyboard. The story may or may not be any good but this version is better than the first. RR

NEWTON PRIMARY SCHOOL in south London is overcrowded in the daytime, more so at 7 pm when grown-ups keen to better themselves replace the children. Descendants of immigrant stock, apparently ignorant of the popular canard that they exist only to create ghettos for themselves, have swollen the numbers signing up for Advanced C++ or Archaeology up to the Cambrian. So much so that certain classes must now share spaces and risk cross-fertilisation:  Tax Law’s severities being modified by the broader brush of Comparative Theology.

This social contiguity brings logistical problems.  Newton is one of London's densest boroughs and for years the evening emptiness of the school playground had seemed so tempting. Until, that is, the borough realised its potential and rented out the tarmac temporarily, first come first served, to harassed nightclass drivers who didn't care to park half a mile away.

But only early-birds profited. James Partridge, late as usual, could find no berth for his ageing Ssangyong and was further enraged to discover a large SUV wastefully bestriding two slots. Slowing as he drove past he noted a familiar registration. Bastard! Typical! Perhaps the patch of grass he'd used before at the Nelson Mandela block of high rise flats would still be unoccupied.

Even so his inconveniences would be worth it. His interest centred on the Newton Quadrennial Festival for which the borough had granted disproportionate rehearsal facilities at the school. Twelve years ago local councillors in the "deprived" sometimes "troubled" borough discovered that inadequate public affairs could be excused or at least disguised under the slogan Newton Has Aspirations. Festivals were then currently fashionable and lottery money had financed the borough's first faltering steps at selling culture to its taxpayers. That festival, which added up to little more than a water-colour competition and some half-hearted DIY folk songs, had failed but failure only seemed to encourage those who distributed lottery largesse. A second festival had included a sprinkling of rock and had launched the brief career of a group then called Mahogany Newt, later gratefully extended to The Mahogany Newtons. Eighteen months later half the Newtons perished in a fiery Transit crash on the M11 but not before their evanescence had been recognised nationally. More cash became available for the third festival, currently in preparation, and this time the organisers had bravely added poetry. James Partridge, nominally an actor, had rarely risen above drinking beer and saying nothing in that mythical pub, The Rover's Return, but had kept body and soul together by employing his sonorous voice on poetry CDs and, even more marginally, on late-night BBC Radio 3. He had high hopes of the Newton Quadrennial.

Rehearsals for Love Poetry A&M, the two-handed recital Partridge was co-partnering, occupied the whole of the school's canteen and after chairs and tables had been stacked on the serving counter there was enough "depth" in the cleared floor area to cause positioning squabbles between the two actors and their director. As he entered through the kitchen door Partridge was already assembling just such an argument only to find events had moved on.

"An easy chair would be better," said Jill in a voice as ungiving as glass.

"Two plain kitchen chairs," said Tancred. "No distractions. We agreed that on day one."

"But this verse of Duffy's luxuriates in the senses. A hard chair would be at odds."

"Five minutes later and you'll be switching to Synge and his funeral. How would a Parker-Knoll fit that one?"

"So spend a bit more lottery money. The committee can afford it. Starkness is so... male"

"While Jim P. must make do with a kitchen chair?"

Jill gestured dismissively. "He wouldn't care tuppence. You're so sexist Tanc, you're no support at all as a director. I thought gays were supposed to be sympathetic."

"Two simple wooden chairs. For sitting on and interacting with.  Plain and interchangeable. Poetry doesn’t need complicating. It’s usually complicated enough."

"Shit on you, Tanc."

"Does the stage still satisfy you, Jill? Would you prefer agency management? Or the armed forces?"

Both sensed Partridge's arrival and turned. He raised his hands in surrender. "Don't mind me. Furniture's not my scene. I'm more into dialogue."

"Soundbites, more like," said Jill.

Tancred stared at the ceiling.

In a rare period of silence each froze into the sort of photographic pose displayed on theatre frontages, hinting at feasts of statuesque acting. Between Jill's parted lips the tip of her tongue peeped out, Partridge's faint smile was definitely wry, while Tancred as director, keen to identify his higher calling, still looked upwards but now hands on hips. Corny but unmistakably authoritative.

Gradually the poses melted back into reality as the chairs were forgotten.

"You're an educated man, Tanc," said Partridge, "How the hell do I pronounce Isoult?"

Asked to advise, Tancred became warner, more animated. "You're talking about the Binyon piece, of course. More particularly: is there a difference between Ysoult and Yseult?"

"At least Isolde's got another syllable." Partridge showing off.

Tancred said, "I need to know Binyon's exact dates. They'll clue me in on whether the spelling is historically justified or just a flight of fancy."

"I could mangle the lady’s name but it's fairly prominent," said Partridge, slipping into declamatory mode:

Isoult, Isoult, thy kiss,
To sorrow though I was made,
I die in bliss, in bliss

Tancred nodded. "We've got to get it right. The line cries out for emphasis."

"Full welly."

"Full welly, indeed"

Jill scented male conspiracy. Had detected it from the first rehearsal when they'd divided the selection of extracts chosen by an elderly Oxonian whom Tancred was keen to indulge. "More masculine speechifying," she snorted. "I've said it before and I'll say it again, why don't I get more gender-specific stuff. Half a dozen stanzas from our Poet Laureate plus Edith Sitwell at her most obscure are hardly enough. The Laura Riding's good, I admit, but mainly I'm making bricks without straw."

Neither Tancred nor Partridge cared to answer. Jill was right; the male bias was obvious. Tancred had driven to Oxford to raise the point but the old man had proved intransigent, rambling on about "an ineluctable rhythm" in the poems and their sequence. A rhythm that was beyond Tancred despite a year of eng. lit. at Durham before the theatre lured him away. When he persisted the Oxonian shrugged, told Tancred he could do what he damn well liked but any changes and he would withdraw the use of his name. Because the name brought kudos, if rather faint, Tancred gave in. None of which had been disclosed to Jill, of course.

"Bricks without straw," repeated Jill. "When am I due more straw?"

Tancred sighed. "We've done our best, Jill. You've got your Rosalind, and I've put it at the end where it matters. It may not be straw but it's a sextet of Bach trumpets."

Briefly the sharp grooves round her mouth softened and the eagerness for dispute disappeared. From her distant look Jill had to be recalling:

Love is merely a madness, and I tell you, deserves as well a dark house and a whip as madmen do; and the reason why they are not punished and cured is that the intimacy is so ordinary that the whippers are in love too. Yet I prefer curing it by counsel.
Orlando: Did you ever cure any so?

These weren't the final lines with which the Oxonian had ended his ineluctable rhythms but Tancred reckoned the transposition was worth the risk if it placated Jill. Not forgetting Partridge as Orlando, of course, who had found himself signing off the recital on this piping minor note and had required a soothing pint or two for his agreement. The manipulation was, nevertheless, an act of genius Tancred told himself.

For Jill would never know.

Scouting as a freelance for the National Theatre Tancred had watched Jill play As You Like It in an upstairs room of a pub in Acton. He stood at the back, in the dark, and left before the end. At the time, more than a decade ago, Jill had a growing reputation in period drama on TV and had accepted this near-amateur production as a way of adding classics to her CV. Tancred had arrived with fairly high expectations and was astonished more than appalled at Jill's terrible performance. For one thing she was slightly too old for Rosalind, for another her recent appearance in a television adaptation of Marie Correlli's The Sorrows of Satan had been poor preparation for Arden's lighter antics. Luckily, days later, Jill was picked - by a casting director ignorant of events in Acton - as Beatrice in a BBC production of Much Ado which had led to qualified critical triumph. Her over-wrought Rosalind could be discreetly forgotten. But not by Tancred.

In bribing Jill to swallow the male prejudice of Love Poetry A&M he not only transposed Rosalind's words to the end of the recital but insisted the change was obvious and logical. "After Hamlet it's the part I love to direct most. OK, you'll only be doing a tiny part of the play but you'll enjoy yourself." Tancred paused to swallow much saliva. "You know you're a natural Rosalind."

Afterwards he reflected on the difficulties actors face saying lines they didn't believe in. The blank look Jill gave him showed Acton had scarred her, that she knew how awful she'd been. And how much she wanted that memory to be untrue. But how would she respond?

At first by becoming serious.

She said thoughtfully, "It looks gay and easy. But Rosalind is several different women. Women within women."

Was that a contraction of her throat? Some swallowed saliva?

She added, "I've had difficulties I must confess." - taking comfort from near-truth.

"But I’ve enjoyed the challenges," she said, Shakespeare merrily.

The lie direct! For Tancred had checked. Much Ado had proved to be a solitary success. Jill had played no Shakespeare since.

Thus she was permitted her outbursts. They carried no threat.

But James Partridge was unaware of the background to this deal. Although he broadly supported feminism in acting at least, he was supremely irritated by Jill's nagging references to an unfair world. For him poetry had arrived in his late thirties. Analysing its structure for his recordings had taught him a good deal about poetry's aims, methods and sentiments. Poetry itself had compensated for the poor financial rewards it dispensed. Jill's complaints were not poetic and didn't inspire poetry. He'd pondered a crushing rejoinder based on bricks and straw but had been hindered by thoughts of farm animals. Too crass even for Jill.

He said, "Surely there are male poets who are sympathetic? That piece by Oliver St John Gogarty which we haven't yet allocated:

Tall unpopular men
Slim proud women who move
As women walked in the islands
Temples were built to Love,
I sing to you.

You can't grumble there. It seems to acknowledge woman's superiority"

It was one thing for Jill to fence harmlessly with Tancred but Partridge was a professional enemy. Endowed with undeserved advantages - still able to play youthful leads, if only in commercials. Jill didn't intend being fair or rational.

"Yet the only time we rehearsed it you did it down-stage. Which defeated the object."

It had been an instinctive move at the time and Partridge needed a strong lie to defend himself. "I was opening the gate to you. Didn't you see that?"

"Chivalry, you say. Backing into the limelight, I say."

Partridge sighed histrionically. "Pity we're doing love poems. Whingeing comes much more naturally to you. Perhaps we could find space for:

And thus I clothe my naked villainy
With old odd ends, stol'n forth of holy writ
And seem a saint when most I play the devil.

After all, it characterises many a love affair."

Her voice rose. "Many of yours, you wretched poseur. Richly deserved, too. There's no great credit these days in scraping Dick Three's barrel."

"One way or another isn't that what we all do?"

"Children!" said Tancred (aged 26) to Jill (48) and James (44). "We're out of here in three-quarters of an hour. Let's do a little theatre. Jill, dear, let me see you use the chair for the Dowson.”

As if a switch had flipped. Jill's angrily slitted eyes opened into brightness, her body became purposeful.  She stood behind the chair supporting herself on the back, then to the side as if the chair were an acquaintance, finally sat down, leaning back, legs irregularly apart, an expression of mythical weariness. Adjusted this latter position, eyes downcast, arms lying bonelessly on her thighs. Spoke quietly out of history:

I would not alter thy cold eyes,
Nor have them smile, nor make thee weep:
Though all my life droops down and dies
Desiring thee, desiring sleep
I would not alter thy cold eyes

Both men watched stilly. Tancred drew in an audible breath. "Quite, quite different. Last time you were...

Partridge broke in, was permitted to do so. "... slightly sorrowful. But this is adoration. Pure and simple. Well done."

"Just that," said Tancred. "Jim, quickly now, the Lawrence."

Partridge sat upright on the chair, deliberately anonymous:

Grief, grief, I suppose and sufficient
Grief makes us free
To be faithless and faithful together
As we have to be.

Immediately Jill raised her hand and Tancred nodded. She said, "Jim, there's so much in it. Contradiction and human awfulness. Are you sure one physical position can cover all that?"

Excitedly Partridge responded. "I knew straight away I was wrong. Right after the second 'grief'. How about this, Jill?"
Now he dropped his shoulders for the final line "As we have to be." and his co-thespians clapped enthusiastically in unison.

With three minutes to go before the superintendent arrived to turn off the lights, Jill asked for Tancred's "gay guidance" on a version of the Carol Ann Duffy that, through one of Jill's gestures, might over-emphasise the feminine:

... you stood waist deep
in a stream
pulling me in,
so I swam.
You were the water, the wind.

Tancred thought for ten seconds, perhaps fifteen, an eternity. Finally replied, looking away from her. "No, play it straight, Jill. It has to be universal."

Out went the lights.

In the dark, from the other side of the playground car-park Partridge watched Jill open the door of the huge SUV.

"Selfish old bitch," he said, almost loud enough to carry.

St Geniès-de-Fontedit. July – August 2017

Carol Ann Duffy extract from Forest, Rapture collection, © Picador.
All other extracts from The Oxford Book of Modern Verse 1892 – 1935, chosen by W. B. Yeats. © Oxford University Press.

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Divorce and other things

Here's a gruesome definition of leisure: "when one is not working or occupied; free time."

The Great Vacancy?

I was last salaried in 1995; almost twenty-five years of being unoccupied. And since shortly I will be on holiday I must, if I were playing the game, face a different level of inoccupancy. The equivalent of a medically induced coma, perhaps.

The hard disk of my netbook (a laptop that shrank in the wash) says otherwise. Two files contain a novel and a non-fiction work, both awaiting their final, final, final read-through. I may never open them. In my head is an idea for a short story: a male actor and a female actor (The Guardian style-book condemns "actress") who hate each other must combine in a presentation of love poetry. I had fun trawling comparatively obscure poets for the raw material; I look forward to juxtaposing these over-charged lines with the two malevolent thespians.

The two books and the story (assuming it gets written) may be regarded as junk by others. But they have the potential to keep me occupied.

I'll also think melancholy thoughts. Ideologues are cutting me adrift (if only psychologically) from two personal resources: the homelands of Richard Strauss and Francois Truffaut. Hatred is said to be bad for you but it can confirm vital signs.

We all know what an occupied country is. What about an occupied person?

I'll also sing. More Mozart but then I have limited aims.

Monday, 24 July 2017


French written paper. Q: Fill in the missing accents
As Britain lurches through geographical, financial and cultural suicide more Brits ponder the future. Typically farmers ("You didn't imagine the UK would match EU subsidies, did you?) and pensioners ("You were lucky to live when you did. It's logical to penalise your good luck so  you may die in poverty.")

These days I need to speak something other than English. Cometh the holiday, cometh the opportunity. Normally we've avoided France in July - August but this year that would have deprived Zach of two weeks' crucial schooling. Because France is crowded in mid-summer it is now sensible to book our diversions, especially restaurants.

I go to France because I like showing off and speaking French there. I make no apologies, if you've got it, flaunt it. Yes, yes, it's an outmoded skill and soon it won't mean a damn. But while it does... Beyond, there'll be just an urnful of ashes.

Booking French restaurants by telephone is another matter. The vocabulary's simple enough but there's always the unexpected, a bank holiday or some such. The trick is to get a joke in; the person taking the call relaxes and what's exchanged becomes a conversation instead of a transaction.

Recently I booked a beach restaurant which impressed us last year. "A table far away from the kitchen and out of the sun," I insisted. The guy misunderstood: "Close to the sun?" he asked incredulously. "Far from the sun," I said briskly. "I know the system. Late arrivals get roasted." He roared with laughter and switched to English. I said I'd wasted my time speaking French. "No, no, monsieur speaks good French."

Balm to my remoaning soul. Usually in short supply.

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Way to go

This year's big holiday starts with a 482.4-mile journey that's  more demanding than it looks. It involves skirting two capital cities - London and Paris; also we'll be using Eurotunnel during the school holidays, the busiest time of the year, to accommodate grandson Zach's academic obligations. Passed with flying colours I'm glad to say.

Although we've done the journey before it remains something of a 21st-century adventure. We must get  from Occasional Speeder's house near Gloucester, UK,  to our hotel, Le Gerbe de Blé, in the village of Chevilly, near Orléans, France. It should take 8 hr 17 min and since most of the route is on motorways that's a fair assumption. But we'll need to stop for fuel and to eat a picnic prepared in the UK. Why must we picnic in the gastronomic paradise that is France? Because French motorway caffs are no better than those in the UK.

The following day we'll complete the route to southern France.

OS and I will share the driving. We'll use electronics to consider route options depending on traffic conditions. We hope to leave Luddites who reject satnavs  whingeing in traffic jams. Satnavs provide directions and dispense psychological aid. On long journeys it's a comfort to know exactly how many kilometres have passed. Also to watch one's ETA converge with clock time. And to be pre-instructed about taking the right lane at complex motorway junctions. Meanwhile the front passenger will smartphone traffic ahead and, if necessary, change strategies on non-motorway roads west of Paris.

Such work passes time more quickly than staring out of the car window. VR will Kindle, doze, Kindle again. Darren, Zach’s Dad, will doze and talk to Zach. Zach will electronically manage an imaginary soccer team.

Thursday, 20 July 2017


Other dictionaries offer humdrum meanings for "epiphany". I prefer the longer, arguably more human, definition from the Cambridge:

A moment when you suddenly feel that you understand, or suddenly become conscious of, something that is very important to you.

● Note "important to you". It needn't be a universal experience. I was in my late teens before I saw my first car race. At Mallory Park circuit I stood on a earth bank overlooking a corner, quite close to and looking down on the cars flashing past. The sense of speed and of danger was, to me, epiphanic.

Rock climbing, my quondam enthusiasm as a youth, should have been a rich source of epiphanies but simply being afraid (a frequent state) didn't quite cut the mustard. Perhaps because I was mainly incompetent.

● My first controlled parallel turn in ski-ing was an epiphany. I was at the centre of the experience, travelling fairly quickly, employing little energy, touching on grace.

● James Joyce is famous for epiphanies although in his case the word's definition includes a rider:

The manifestation being out of proportion to the significance or strictly logical relevance of whatever produces it.

I like that. A third the way through Ulysses I found myself reflecting on the character of Leopold Bloom, recognising in him an exemplar of humanity, its failings and its magnificences. Definitely an e-moment.

● Making love? Not the first time but almost certainly the second. Important that it occurred in London.

● Music? The only endeavour where I anticipate epiphanies. A regular source: The Soave il vento trio from Cosi.

● The bursts of admiration and sympathy I feel for Gina Miller.

● Coming unexpectedly upon one of the Rembrandt self-portraits. Where? I can't remember.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Salt tears

Good on yer, Igor. Now his hair is fashionably short and he's bearded
I cried, yes I did.

Russian-born pianist, Igor Levit, played LvB's Third Piano Concerto at the start of the BBC's long-established series of summer music concerts, The Proms.

Then an unscripted encore: Liszt's transcription of the Ode to Joy theme from LvB's Ninth Symphony. Also known as the EU Anthem. Seems he feels that the European Union - created to stop european countries from fighting each other - was a cause worth celebrating.

As The Guardian headline said: Proms get political. Describes the piece as "a worldwide musical symbol of assertive unity".

Look, I know I'm a bit of a bastard, certainly cruel (as my previous post shows) but if I hadn't cried at that when would I ever cry?

A recording of the concert is available on the BBC's radio I-player service, alas only accessible to UK residents. You'll have to listen first to the Third Piano Concerto but you wouldn't mind that, would you? Link below.


Salt tears, I assure you.

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Variations on an old theme

The News Reader
Does this make things clearer?

Some day when Kim Jong-Un acts childishly,
And purple clouds obscure the Golden Gate,
As heat and death flow down Ol’ Sixty-Six,
And Napa grapes show strange maturity.
When mutants shag high flies at Candlestick,
And bats out-number folk at San Berdoo,
As I routinely turn on News at Ten
And note apocalypse proclaimed by you.

Oh you, all textiles to your neckless chin,
Poached-egg eyes to lend a false solemnity,
Left arm outstretched to prop your gravitas,
Decay delayed with thickened maquillage.
A stuffy herald for our piping times,
World’s end described in awe-free, wearied words,
“We’ll analyse,” you say, but dust is dust,
And Bridgend lilt can only bring more dust.

As Californians curl up and fry,
We’ll need a Milton or a Stratford Will,
Instead there’s you and “What’s your sense of this?”
Dulling the edge of death with Gelusil.
This end, our end, should be both dark and grand,
An austere welcome to oblivion,
More than a kiosk and a rubber stamp,
More than the forming of an ordered queue.

And when your chalk-stripe suit is touched with flame
Will light obliterate more of the same?

Too tired to read it yourself? Click HERE and I'll do it for you.