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.

Thursday, 31 January 2013

From the blogger's coalface

I consider compiling The Ten Worst Movies (TTWM) but can't immediately think of ten. Will I eventually meet my requisite "metric dozen" or will I have to cheat, trawling others' lists? Not cheating as readers might recognise it but minor (internal) fraudulences that take the zip out of writing the post.

An arithmetical matter arises. My posts are limited to 300 words (Is it time to re-explain why?) which means 30 words per movie. Take away six words to cover the title and some actor names and I'm left with 24. Oh, oh. I've already written 97 words of agonising, a third of my allocation. More like 14 words/movie now. Not much room for coruscating wit.

Where did the idea for TTWM come from? Because any time of the day or night I'm aware of the worst movie: Brigadoon (Gene Kelly, Cyd Charisse, Van Johnson). I posted about that nearly three years ago. No one would remember, surely? But didn't Lucy make some comment at the time? She'll remember.

What's the second worst? That awful documentary about "foreign" surfers invading the sport in Hawaii. Oh yes. I cringe at the memory. But the reasons for its awfulness are astonishingly complex. Might I run out of words?

So-called classics often mine deep for awfulness. O'Flaherty's The Louisiana Story is a semi-documentary with dubiously "acted" scenes. Critics (the sort that compile Ten Best Movie lists) used to slaver over it and I once had to watch it twice in a single afternoon. But by now it's terribly obscure.

Foreign films? I watched swathes in my teens and frankly wasn't intellectually equipped to judge what I saw. Come to think of it I saw Rohmer's Clare's Knee in my sixties and couldn't make head nor tail of that. Does bafflement add up to worst?

Crikey! That's 300 words. And I'm nowhere.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Security where none is required

Two decades ago, perhaps three, VR urged me to adopt a more adult approach to acquiring underpants.

Buying in batches of six isn't a good idea since all tend to self-destruct in the same week, twelve years later. Crises however long postponed, always arrive inconveniently.

The sensation when (typically) the elastic withers is out of all proportion to the mere loss of underpant function. Deep inadequacy descends when you realise half the garment is hanging like a limp bunch of grapes down the interior of one trouser leg, and the other the other. You are uncertain. You can't be sure the effect isn't noticeable to male passers-by and they aren't whispering "Poor child." behind your back.

These thoughts passed through my mind last week when I paid for yet another half-dozen pants at - Where else? - Marks & Spencer. A minute later I found myself reflecting on the bill - £36. Enough for two suits when I was in the market for suits. I continued to remain philosophical.

My tranquillity didn't last. Donning the first pair I noticed a horrible innovation. The flyhole was secured with a totally unnecessary button. To what end? Of no benefit at all to M&S's elderly customers cursed with waterworks that operate intermittently.

What else have youthful designers got in store? Trousers with zip-up legholes? Hankies with velcro-assisted folding? Lockable bath taps? Don't they realise that life is short and they may have to answer to a vengeful and inevitably ancient God?

Friday, 25 January 2013

Leaving cramped knees behind

Fifty years ago (give or take a week or two) VR was staying with her parents in Folkestone and I sent her my second and last Valentine card, saying I'd passed my driving test. Two days later, more formally, I revealed I'd been made redundant from MotorCycling magazine - a story that will keep for the moment.

A driving (US: driver's) licence is a passport to good and bad. Here's a chronological pick 'n' mix.

Plunging into the five-lane maelstrom at Hyde Park Corner, London, confident others would give way.

Leaving Padua, Italy, at dawn, with a huge hangover, the sun directly in my eyes, the Paduan workforce, on bicycles, streaming into the town on either side of my car.

Fearful my rented Dodge Charger would run out of gas in the Californian redwood forest.

Turning right at 5 mph in car park in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania, smashing into anonymous US car, destroying the front end of my VW Squareback (called a Variant in the UK).

Disembarking from the SS France luxury liner at Southampton, getting into the left-hand drive VW Squareback which had accompanied us from the US, and driving to Folkestone.

Crossing on Dover - Calais ferry en route to rented villa in Concarneau, Brittany, shared with Joe and family.

Touring major French vineyards in the first car I bought as an indulgence and not for utilitarian reasons.

Crossing Col d'Iseran (2770 m) above Val d'Isère (pictured).

Hit in rear of my company car coming home (Kingston-upon-Thames) from French lesson in Sutton; next morning hitting another car squeezing out of traffic jam 20 m from my KuT front door.

En route for albatross colony on the Otago Peninsula, NZ.

Discovering the most delightful road in mid-Wales: Llanidloes to Machynlleth.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Mostly we walk; otherwise...


When Tesco, the supermarket, offered us a loyalty card some years ago we took it. Are we in fact loyal? Of course we are. Other than our self-indulgent monthly trips to Waitrose (see: All this and dry oloroso) we'd use any supermarket that was a mere ten-minute walk away. Unless it was an Asda, of course, but that would be a case of moral fibre.

With grocery shopping our aim is to be in and out as fast as possible. Anti-social by nature we avoid groups. To be part of a group driven by the need to acquire carrots or quilted toilet paper is ignoble. Better to keep one's needs discreetly to oneself. Once one becomes a self-admitted "shopper" the process proves to be irreversible.

And yet, you say, your needs are copious and often specialised. You have posted about them boastfully. Tesco, the proletariat supermarket cannot grant your every wish. True. At which point we get into the Skoda for these reasons:

Sainsbury: x2 size filter papers, three-for-the-price-of-two  tarts consisting of strawberries bedded into creme patisserie, The Morning Star, El Pais, Figaro newspapers (just to glance at the headlines), utterly organic chickens (but please avert your eyes from the price).

Aldi: Cremant de Jura French fizz, 10YO tawny port at £10, four-in-one fowl roast.

Lidl: Cooked frozen lobsters at £5.

Various butchers: Hereford is heavily endowed with independents where we buy Welsh lamb (easily the best) and rib-eye steaks (ditto)

The losers: Morrison (down by the station too far away; almost "on the other side of the tracks"), Co-op (a deathly hush).

NOTE No apostrophe s with any of the names. Oh yes, we speak it that way. But doing without looks more "informed", don't you agree?


Sunday, 20 January 2013

All this and dry oloroso

First, a little tutorial on British supermarkets. Tesco is the biggest. Seeking to be universal it lacks individual style and suffers love/hate from its shoppers; most have no other option. Sainsbury, after a rocky period, now occupies a class niche two steps up from Tesco, offering two types of coffee filter, a more rounded policy on tuna paté, anya potatoes (uniquely in Hereford), and superior sausages. Morrisons revels in being Northern and working class, evident in certain cheaper cuts of meat. As to Asda, it wouldn't matter if it gave the stuff away VR would prefer to starve to death, burning with a gem-like flame of antipathy towards the practices of the US parent, Wal-Mart.

Which leaves Waitrose. Despite its socialistic structure (all employees are shareholders and reap handsome dividends at the year end) Waitrose is the darling of the middle-classes. Staff are bonus-civilised, the butcheries are visibly better than, say, Super-U, Intermarché or Leclerc in France, the cakes are delicately formed and imaginative, the area devoted to vegetables and fruit always seems bigger than that of its British competitors and it offers dry oloroso sherry.

Our nearest Waitrose is 25 miles away in Wales which means adding £6 of diesel to the bill. Do we care? Do we hell! We go there once a month, mid-morning when it's at its quietest, expecting to browse and make impulse purchases.

But Waitrose also has intelligent shoppers. Mid-morning last Thursday things were chaotic, the aisles choked. No browsing possible. We couldn't complain. Thursday night it snowed heavily on South Wales but one assumes the boyos and boyesses ate well in their mountain fastnesses. Not panic, just controlled urgency. I liked that, toasted them all in oloroso on snow-girt Friday night.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Make a right turn soon, kid

Zach, our grandson, is developing at great speed but, hey, this is not one of those maundering grand-parently boasts. His memory is phenomenal but it's what he remembers I find disturbing. Line-ups of the whole of the Premier (soccer, as is all that follows) Division, players' previous employment, past managers of Coventry City, score-lines of international games four months ago, nationality minutiae, transfer fees, the name of Barcelona's ground. The adults around use him as Memory Man, he's quicker than an I-phone.

In October I watched a rugby match on Occasional Speeder's telly. Referring to the game at Christmas I recalled one of the teams but couldn't name the other. "Harlequins," said  Zach, overhearing. He was right of course.

I am reminded of a Damon Runyon story. One of his low-lifes finds himself out-of-work and his only asset is a wide familiarity with racing horseflesh. "But," says Runyon, "in Times Square that knowledge was kinda like a drug on the market."

I'd prefer Zach to have a broader-based start in life when he looks for employment although I may be, as the Austrians say, "listening to the fleas cough." His last report card was a panegyric, a quite sickening panegyric.

And then suddenly my mind slides back 65 years. Cast lists of  US B-feature movies in the 40s and 50s: Charles McGraw, Adele Jergens, Marie Windsor, Steve Brodie. Their faces, etched with noirish camera-work, march past. Slightly faded but still quite sharp is the irritation I engendered in others when I parrotted this info. It's early days for Zach. He is, as I've often said, only six.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Something for the disdainful

I have been accused of being a snob. Not recently, I admit. But that’s because the charge of vieux jeu is more likely. A retired snob, in fact.

But does the original charge stick? Isn’t old age a time to accept what one is or was, warts and all? I checked snobs’ websites and found "an expert or connoisseur in a given field (who condescends) toward, or is disdainful of, those who hold other opinions or have different tastes regarding this field."

The list of fields didn’t include Motorbikes or Technology but did offer Culture in General. Shoot for the moon, I told myself. And there was a ten-point checklist. A CiG snob must have:

Read The Man Without Qualities (better still Der Mann ohne Eigenschaften)
Visited the Tate and ignored the Turners.
Listened voluntarily to A Quartet For The End of Time.
Owned at least one pair of silk underpants.
Laughed twice during L'Année Dernière à Marienbad.
Driven a 2.4 Jaguar before the first Morse book was written.
Drunk a twenty-year old vintage of any two of The Big Five (Latour, Margaux, Haut Brion, Lafite, Mouton-Rothschild) preferably at someone else's expense.
Said that snails eat better than frog's legs
Danced with a millionaire's daughter and reckoned the experience "banal".
Known what l'aïeule means and been able to pronounce it.

The hugely pro-French bias seemed appropriate given this was a test for English snobs. I started ticking off the list with growing interest.

Tell you what: I’ll tell you my score if you tell me yours

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

And all's to do again*

On September 24 2011, at the end of a post about sloe gin and marmalade, I note I had written 1423 words of Blest Redeemer. Today I finished it with the mileometer reading 155,328 words. Let's say that I started BR on September 1. That would be 16 months at a rate of nearly 10,000 words a month, about 350 words a day. Meaningless to anyone who isn't aware of their writing rate but in journalism it's a key issue.

In 1955, using shorthand notes as a basis and writing for a weekly newspaper (ie, long, long articles), I would have expected to hammer out prose on my Remington at the rate of 1000 words/hour. Notice I say nothing about the quality. Then or now it wasn't/isn't for me to say.

Nor does the word "finished" mean very much. Apart from being 40,000 words longer than Risen on Wings and nearly 50,000 more than Gorgon Times, BR is far more ambitious - a literary word meaning sprawling. Large chunks have already been rewritten following recommendations by Joe but without his being able to see how it ends. There'll be much more rewriting to come, but at least the story is laid bare.

What's it about? Success, horrible suffering,  re-emergence. Secular redemption, the title taken from a CofE hymn: Our Blest Redeemer, 'ere he breathed. The hero is Judith.
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GRANDDAUGHTER Ysabelle's "young man" (who has contributed to Tone Deaf under the blogonym Cool Kid) is soccer mad. Technically that should mean a gulf the size of Grand Canyon between us but I found him a Christmas present that pleased us both; a tee-shirt bearing this rubric:

In football everything is complicated by the presence of the opposite team. J-P Sartre.

Dispute it if you will

* Housman

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Zippa-di-doo-dah, zippa-di-ay

Hey, I'm so content. The artificial Christmas tree is back upstairs in the attic (Oh, catharsis!), Joni's just started up on the computer with Big Yellow Taxi ("They put all the trees in a tree museum. Charged a dollar-and-a-half just to see 'um."), there's one of those Danish series starting at nine on telly, political not murder, with the most lustrous, most voluptuous lady PM ever elected, and I can afford to break off from Blest Redeemer because every word between now and The End is clear in my noggin and Judith will break down in tears - as will I - at a moment I've worked slavishly to create over the last month and a bit. Riding a horse called music.

Went to Specsaver this AM, the most efficient human enterprise ever since the boats headed south and D-Day became a reality. People, in a chain, pass me from one link to another, never halting, and my eyes are measured, from left and right, up and down. One device confirms my left eye (the trick one) is focusing on a hot-air balloon taking off from what looks like Arizona.

Frank now sings Luck Be A Lady Tonight.

The cataracts can stay put for another six months and the optician - from Central Europe, surely with that accent - passes a thousand lenses past my eyes. How can he keep track of the sequence? What will be the effect of  losing the cataracts? A reduction in opacity, he says. And I savour the slipperiness of that word, visited by a massive attack of smugness that I had the good luck to be forced to learn English as my first language. Who wouldn't be content? Just think of another word: lobelia. Two ls and ls are good for pronouncing.

Just finished with Warren Zevon and An Excitable Boy.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Better the year, better the deed

AS A LABOUR of love I'm transferring the contents of VR's "books read" notebooks into a database. Not a negligible matter. At five entries per book (Author, title, date read, rating - out of 10, comments) over eight years (approx 220 books/year) that's 1760 book lines. In three days I've done 100 lines. The comments make it worthwhile, bearing in mind these judgments are often rushed off before catching a bus or leaving for local library. So for instance:

Just could not like this; found both style and plot annoying. Bookshop in late 19thC with Japanese and half French/half English son as proprietors, chase goblet supposed to represent missing link. Rating: 3

Dalziel, back from sick leave, asked by old friend to look into case of policeman missing seven years, whose wife he is going to marry. Evil black property developer with MP son is killed. Rating: 5

Better books are also read:

Heartbreaking story of very young woman widowed after one year of marriage in isolated village. 50s? Estranged in-laws but caring 14-year-old brother-in-law. Rating: 7
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I SWITCH on CBBC channel for Zach, asking him what programme he has in mind. Horrible Henry, he says. When's that? I ask. He picks up Radio Times, turns to the correct page, runs a finger down the listings, and says: "Nine thirty-five." Zach is six. He's rotten at charades, though. Adopted a mole-like posture for all three of his words.

TWO women, one dead from heart attack, one frozen to death, discuss how they arrived in Hell. "Heard my husband was with his lover; rushed all over house trying to find her but failed," said one. "Pity you didn't look in the fridge first," said the other, "we might both have survived."