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.

Saturday, 29 June 2013

Tolling for technology, I suppose


I see Joe is dwelling on his blogo-past. I glanced at my archives and find I recently passed my blogo-birthday without even noticing it.

On May 4 2008 I launched Works Well (blogonym: Barrett Bonden) based on a pig-headed policy to write only about technology. Two years passed and this became an artificial restriction: elsewhere I'd be lording it up about Joyce and the Resurrection symphony, then coming back to toasters and Phillips-headed screws.

Various convulsions occurred including a misguided attempt to write verse. Those posts are rarely visited now - they are far too salutary. Eventually I did what I should have done in the first place: write novels. I'm on my fourth now.

Given my actuarial expectations, I should have closed the blog and concentrated on fiction. But  I discovered this wasn't my decision to take. Any more than one might cut the throats of friends in order to save on giving dinner parties. Beyond my family circle my social circle is out there in blogoland not here in Hereford. Out there are people I know, like and refer to. All of them my superior in one way way or another. Humbled, I have put away the knife.

I see I have posted 811 times not including those I deleted following a belated discovery of my lack of judgement. These days I am far less controversial, less in-yer-face, duller, older. I look back far too often as I am doing now. An almost extinct volcano occasionally offering sympathy rather than the mailed fist.

With a following wind I may get close to 1000 posts this year. Lucy, with whom I discussed this, won't but that's because her approach to blogging is more elegant. The best decision I ever made was to limit my posts to 300 words.

PS: Forget Wimbledon grunters, beautiful game bottom feeders,  pelota, tauromachy, toxophily, bear-baiting, Acapulco cliff diving and mud snorkeling. Today, the Tour begins and the Rs become distant

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Survival of the inexplicable

Evolution can inform things as well as organisms. Usefully too. It spotlights anomalies where an item has ceased - for unknown reasons - to develop and has entered an evolutionary cul de sac.

The worst car I ever owned was an Austin Cambridge - by far. As I struggled with ownership I might, if I'd been better educated, have comforted myself with the thought that better cars lay ahead. With the Cambridge there was even more retrospective comfort in that better companies lay ahead and the manufacturer, BMC, then BL, then who knows, was to wither deservedly. A case of evolution acting as it should.

But I cannot say the same about the deck-chair. I neither know nor care when this cynical exercise in bad ergonomics (the science of man's relationship with his immediate environment) was devised, only that it too should have withered. It is difficult to get into and out of, induces agony just behind the knees, and can guillotine the finger-tips of the wary. Yet still it persists. You may say it has a certain gaiety. I would say... no, I won't say it.

Tin-opener technology has a come a long way. Tone Deaf and, before that, Works Well, have celebrated this progress. But a deficient design is still available, notably in French street markets. It is fabricated from pressed mild steel, suggesting it may have appeared soon after WW2 when cheapness and shortage of materials were dominant. The handle is painful to hold, the cutter tears at the tin resulting in flesh-menacing jaggery, and the fold-away cork-screw is based on a helix that is so narrow it often pulls straight out of the cork. Who favours this thing? Those who must have a tin-opener like grannie's? Nostalgia like that can be bad for you.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Sacrificed on art's high altar

I thought I was finished with France. I'm home now, having cut the chain of disasters that was bringing Tom close to a nervous breakdown. But then Occasional Speeder slipped me a couple of pix I felt I had to use. They're linked you see.

Our last meal in Aniane was dinner at The Esplanade, the place where I fell so grievously and subsequently achieved clown-like status among the locals. Alas, there was entertainmment - two guitars, drums and keyboard - sounding like World War Two (all five years of it). I found myself crouching because when I sat up from my encornet de seiche farci (a sausage-like structure fashioned from octopus) my thoracic cavity resonated as if from Thor's hammer.

"What style of music is this?" I asked genially of Darren, my son-in-law. "Rock," he said curtly, convinced I was in teasing mode. Since Wikipedia lists 215 sub-genres of rock from Grindle to Crunkcore and from Ethereal Wave to Swedish Death Metal I felt I had been short-changed.

Friends, it was noisy. We think the little old lady on the left came out to complain but she may have been discussing Kierkegaard. VR and I resorted to exchanging messages written on a table napkin (see pic right) which was spirited away by Occasional Speeder when the food arrived. I've no doubt it will form the theme of yet another terrible English TV romcom making fun of deafness.

Finally, me laughing. To prove I can. It's more fun to imply gloom and speculated felo de se but occasionally I feel for my readers. Following Tone Deaf must be a miserable row to hoe. My eternal gratitude.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Black's usually brighter

It takes two days to get back from the French villa to Hereford. First hop, a mere 551.77 miles, started near Montpellier and ended with a sumptuous meal in Neufchatel-en-Bray (see pic) near Rouen. But  who wants to read about that sort of blandness?

Far better to tell you what went through our minds when we discovered I'd left the overnight bag behind. Containing some dirty clothes (Oh the shame: VR) and a tube of cream to alleviate one of my more intimate maladies (Hey, come on: it's no clue to my basic morality: RR). I wrote the cream's name in block capitals for the Neufchatel pharmacienne not because I'm shy but because I knew my pronunciation wouldn't match hers. Predictably she said she hadn't got it but had something better. I didn't ask if it cost more, I knew it would.

We also bought two new tooth-brushes ("Do you wish supple?") and a tube of tooth-paste. The latter's called dentifrice in France. It carried the same name in the UK fifty years ago when it came in a tin and resembled grinding-powder. As if to sharpen...

We were warned about "difficult" traffic conditions in Rouen because one of the central bridges was closed.. "Impossible" would have been a better adjective. This led to a massive deviation which the French call déviation. The addition of that accent allows the French to tinker with the word's meaning. Turning it into a phrase "the long way round." or, in some cases, "the very long way round.". In pre-satnav days VR did the navigation and the appearance of that word (Black lettering on a yellow board) always caused her morale to sink.

The bad weather seems to have cast a blight on the fleets of caravans carrying Dutch number plates. An ill wind...

Friday, 21 June 2013

Signing off French style

FRANCE: SUMMING UP The last day and it's been a mixed bag. Chronic maladies have deflected me from several pastimes. And this time France has existed more as a theory than anything real and touchable. Not surprising. The villa isolates us as does the car and our Britishness.

Too often I have met the French - glancingly - over restaurant meals. There's a repetitive quality about these encounters however desperately I try to break up the rituals. Shopping too: last night I bought six bottles of fizz at a serious cave here in Aniane; attempting to make something (socially, linguistically) out of nothing I ended up insulting the two men working there.

I am pleased at having written 5000 words of the novel but that has little to do with France.

One big plus has been the way my daughter and her husband have cossetted us by taking over much of the drudgery that makes the villa work. Zach, too, has charmed us by his astonishing intellectual progress. Gosh, that sounds perilously like fond grandparent talk. Ugh.

Come on RR, you maudlin old waster. Let's have less of you and more of sturdy if inarticulate Barrett Bonden.

Why not? Driving home yesterday I saw a parked car at the side of the road and a man standing some 5 m away. At some distance I recognised what that car/man relationship meant. Reminded myself that a couple of hours before, at Le Point Sublime (see previous post), I'd experienced a distinctly un-sublime urge and had answered it in the same way. Was glad to do so. Felt enfranchised by that car-driver and a million of his predecessors. Disgusting? Possibly, probably. But damnit, it wasn't British! One reason out of several I holiday in France.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Hidden delights

FRANCE: A CERTAIN SOMETHING This above is what we were after. Take a left out of the Gorge du Tarn, up a suicidally narrow and steep road, keep on going hairpin after hairpin, end up at the souvenir shop in the company of two huge pay-for binoculars. If asked by a moron you'd say you were there for the view. But in your literary heart of hearts you're there for the name of the place from which you are able to take in the view:

LE POINT SUBLIME

Resist that and you deserve to be interred in an unmarked grave.

The rain was lashing down. During lunch, after it was all over, VR oberved quite mildly - no whinge-bag she - that it had been a dull old trip in the back of the car. Without the aid of windscreen wipers she had seen very little. It was still raining when OS and I got out at our destination; she wore my fake Barbour suit jacket, I wore my quickly sodden - but fashionable - tee-shirty sort of garment. OS took the picture and here it is:

As some sort of compensation OS took another pic as proof that one of us at least got there.

In France you're never disappointed for long. At the Restaurant De La Gare at Sévérac-De-La-Chateau the plat-du-jour was veal liver and we were the only foreigners in a dining room stuffed full of locals. No pizzas, burgers or ersatz fish-and-chips and no Tory bleaters.

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Goofus juice for Tom


Tom, something good happened in Aniane just minutes ago. How about swallowing a 300-word slug in the hope that it cures you of your recently contracted attack of Tone Deaf depression?

I suffer from gout! Otherwise the accumulation of uric acid crystals in the big toe main joint. At its worst it feels as if someone's shaping one's bare toe bones with a new sheet of emery paper. Is that sufficiently visual? I'm just getting you in the mood.

For this I take a 100 mg tablet of Allopurinol a day. Orally, which means through the mouth. Which means there's a brief period when my mouth is inhibited from spreading gloom and despondency. Surely that's good news, though there's better to come.

I brought what I thought were sufficient tablets to cover the holiday only to find out I was two short. Allopurinol is, of course, prescription, but you can usually persuade the average British chemist to dispense a couple of tablets ex-prescription in an emergency. But what about the flashing Green Cross brigade? I have a bad record with them (see Unmeltable Ice Maidens).

So I went in and asked. And - lo - they couldn't sell me two tablets.

They could however sell me 28 tablets.

At an unbelievably gentle €1.98 the box
.
Have I made you happier? I do hope so.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Language is (can be) good for you


FRANCE: CLOSE-RUN THING All three arrived home oddly. Zach uncharacteristically subdued, Darren walking awkwardly on his heels, OS with a fixed, buck-toothed smile. When OS tried to explain things she could only manage giggling incomplete sentences.

They'd signed on for 12 km adventure down the River Hérault gorge, three to a canoe. French canoes are equipped with a dieresis - canoë - and are thus pronounced can-oh-ey. During the briefing (in French) the francophone customers all laughed at one point. No translation was forthcoming.

After about 5 km the ZDOS canoe slid nescapably into a whirlpool which briskly overturned them. OS broke the surface but couldn't find Zach, saw only his cap floating rapidly downstream. She could, however, hear him and after a while realised he was under the still overturned canoe. Strong currents had by this time carried away two sets of flip-flops and a paddle. As the two adults struggled the canoe to more tranquil water at the side of the gorge they noticed two Belgians passing through, clinging to their overturned craft.

I then lent OS the car to drive to the Clermont l'Hérault Super U where, she assured me, the selection of flip-flops would be wider than at the hated Intermarché at Gignac. It seemed the least I could do.

MORE CHAT The waitress at Le Pavillon, where we had dinner, gave good value. Her calmness towards a multi-voiced babble asking for drinks suggested my (kind of) apophthegm: Quand tout le monde parle, rien est compris. (When everyone speaks, nothing is understood.) to which she gave qualified approval. Later I asked her for an idiomatic French equivalent for the anti-grief exhortation in English: Get over it! Quickly she devised something elegant involving light at the end of a tunnel. Dinner OK too

Monday, 17 June 2013

All falls come to an end

FRANCE: LA CHUTE, et. seq. When I paid for lunch the following day the patronne was behind the till and she asked solicitously about my injuries even though she hadn't been in evidence at the time.

As I have explained my main aim on holiday in France is to turn every event, however minor, into a conversational opportunity. I said it was my fault (though the step was virtually invisible) and the main damage was to the little finger on my right hand. "But then," I said, "the little finger..." She finished off my sentence: "... isn't much use for anything."

Delighted she'd picked up my wavelength, I then went a step too far. "I was probably drunk. A cause de toi." The second sentence uttered without thinking means "Because of you." but where it strays is that it employs a derivative of the second-person singular tu. Even those who do not speak French will know that there are innumerable solecisms associated with the misuse of this word. Was I being over-familiar? Was I treating her as a child? Or as a villain?

But her eyes sparkled and she laughed aloud. The French, in my experience, are incapable of laughing politely and so all seemed well. We will lunch there again this week hoping for blanquette de veau however unseasonal.

NOVEL Although the Compaq netbook has been unsuitable for nettish work, it fulfilled its word processor function admirably. I have written over 3000 words of Hand Signals and am now involved in writerly rather than computeresque problems. I need to show a man practising "goodness for her own sake" on the hero Jessica (name will probably be changed). It is extraordinarily difficult. She is presently too fragile a structure.

Pic. Aniane's main drag. Alas the restaurant is beyond the left curve

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Gravity's no fun at all


FRANCE: LA CHUTE It was hot as the hinges of hell. Darren, OS's hubbie, ordered une pression (draft beer), I ordered une grande pression causing Darren to change his order. The beer came in heavy glass mugs that needed two hands to keep them steady. I hate these crude containers – they coarsen all they dispense. Thick dimpled glass is the enemy of all beer.

Quite soon we ordered a couple more GPs and eventually my personal thermodynamics re-assumed a steady state. I went inside to pay the bill. Told the waitress I was looking forward to lunch the following day “because yours is the sort of place that does blanquette de veau (veal in a white sauce) as the plat du jour (the daily special).” Left cheerily.

Too cheerily. I fell into space from a platform cunningly designed for minimal ostentation. Fought myself in the air; gave in. Fell saying “Shit”, the word pilots usually leave behind on the black box as they face their final rendezvous with Mother Earth.

Two youngish Frenchmen sprang up, one extending his hand. I smiled (I think I did) and said my most available hand was the one that hurt. “I'm going to turn over,” I said. Raising myself I not only used the hand that hurt but also a knee that hurt too. I thanked them both profusely in my most inventive French wondering if two Englishmen of equivalent age would have bothered.
THE NOMAD A sleek black cat wanders in offering insincere caresses. Later a scraggy grey cat enters timorously. If I throw gristle to the grey the black boxes its ears. Early this morning the black saw me typing through the French windows and screeched to be let in. The hell with it.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Less guff on markets


FRANCE: OUTDOOR MARKETS Much rubbish is written by Brits about French street markets The freshness! The ripeness!The wit of country hobbledehoys! The amusing disruption!The beating heart of France! I know, I've done it myself. Pure paperasse (bumf). But I'll refrain in future.

Occasional Speeder had scheduled Gignac's market for this morning. "But let's not rush to the stalls first thing," she said. "Let's start by sitting down outside a café for a coffee." I agreed. Anything to break the iron ring of cliché.

My first job was to order paella scooped up from a flying-saucer-sized pan for tonight's dinner. But how much? A kilo always sounds too heavy. Madame suggested two kilos for four bellies and arranged the contents of a one-kilo box to show how the portions looked. It still seemed too much and I know her yardstick was the more capacious French belly. In the end I agreed.

But what I really wanted to know was what she thought about the wine on an adjacent stall: Vin de Merde (literally: Shit Wine). Wasn't that amusing? She refused to break street market omertá

Tasting the produce is all part of the game. But on one fruit stall the man ahead rootled through a pile of cherries like a truffle hound to get the fattest. Undignified.

A beggar proffered his message which I failed to read. I gave OS a 2 euro piece which she handed on. The beggar kissed her hand with his bearded mouth then took mine. Curtly I told him kisses weren't on my agenda.
The French continue to admire my coin dispenser (invaluable at the market). Only the Brits jeer. And then only my own family.

Finally it got too hot and I needed beer. Science took a rest.

Friday, 14 June 2013

Fat men freak out over fuel


FRANCE: ANGER

I came close to getting into a fight, yesterday. Quite thrilling.

I was queueing for fuel at Intermarché and it was 30 deg C. After filling up you join another queue and pay at a little cubby-hole. To ensure drivers are not billed for other's fill-ups your total remains on the pump display until it's paid for. Up to then your pump remains inactive.

As I stood outside the car waiting for the previous driver's total to be cleared I heard an angry bellow from behind. I turned round and saw a very fat man getting out of his car. Since I'm fat myself I'm able to say he was very fat. As he emerged it was like seeing the wall of a dam breached by a huge onrush of water. He pointed to my pump and told me it was equipped for credit-card payment. I didn't have to wait, holding him up.

Maybe, but surely the previous driver's total would need to be cleared first. In a voice as deliberately bellicose as that of the very fat man, I, the more average fat man, shouted: Il faut attendre (One must wait.). He started to move towards me and I relished this, wondering where my tyre-iron was. (Car drivers in US crime novels always use tyre irons on each other.)

Now another French voice joined in – attacking the very fat man. Why should I, a foreigner, be required to use a credit card? In fact it could well have been impossible; some supermarket filling stations only take French cards. The new shouter turned to face me and to smile. I said cash would be better and he nodded.

Humiliated and uncomfortable the very fat man oozed away and, lo, the display on my pump cleared.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Unmeltable ice maidens


FRANCE: MEDICAL MATTERS OK, I'm over here to talk to the natives. But who are the best talkers? That's an easy one – the custodians of others' health. But a word of caution: such conversations need not necessarily be enjoyable.

Pharmacies, identified by a flashing green cross which, I'm told, is an analogue for putrefying flesh, sell perfume and make-up as well as medication. A quick glance at most pharmaciennes (ie, female chemist shop employees) will tell you which side of the business they prefer. Immaculate hair that would shatter if struck, mouths outlined with architectural yet passionless precision, blusher which passes through a dozen gradations. These women are like beautiful statues and are about as useful. Their function is to withhold information. Ask for a multi-toothed device used to regularise hair (“of which I have forgotten the French word”) and they will refuse to identify it as a comb. But persist. The answers may not be helpful but they are fruitful examples of saying no. Also these women are uninsultable. One comes away exhilarated without recourse to drugs – which these women would not, in any case, supply.

Doctors are best. I spent two minutes with a GP near Nimes describing a boil on my bum and how it was preventing me from embracing France's delights. After courteously complimenting me on my French (roughly the equivalent of saying “How do you do?” in English) he told me it was a cyst. Ten minutes ensued on cysts-I-have-known and I was in seventh heaven. He recommended attendance at a clinic at Narbonne and I eagerly accepted, willing to endure the scalpel in furtherance of more outré experience. Alas, the surgeon turned out to be German and we glumly discussed Rupert Brooke – in English - as he hacked me about..

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Briarpatch is no protection


FRANCE: THE REASON You could say I am where I am because of the weather, the food, the wine, the scenery or the possibility of spotting an intellectual. All are true, of course, but none matches my secret perversion: a desire, edging on mania, to talk to French people in their own language. To amaze them with an unexpected opening phrase, to disagree with their recommendations, and then slip in something which makes them laugh – despite themselves!

Half an hour ago I entered the butcher where riz de veau is shamelessly on display and announced loudly: “A year has passed and here I am at the best butcher in the Languedoc.” (Note: I would never disagree with a butcher.)

I hear you all, out there in Blogoland, groaning with irritation, saying listen to the old blowhard, showing off, covering up his lack of education, boasting about something that none of us may check. Because you imagine I am a fluent francophone.

It's not true. My French is virtually non-idiomatic, hindered by an accent born in the geographical equivalent of a sty, limited to a few simple tenses (which don't include the subjunctive), easily outshone by working-class patois, and frequently tripped up by an imperfect knowledge of the verb rendre.

But I do have one advantage: adherence to Danton's prescription: “l'audace, encore l'audace, et toujours de l'audace.” Which I'm sure you don't need me to translate. The French have devised a language which, like Brer Rabbit's briarpatch, protects them by its complexity. What they do not expect is someone taking the linguistic initiative. However barbarically. For precious moments they are cowed – for goodness sake, they listen! I am also quite tall.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Teutonic is best


FRANCE: EVEN MORE ORGANISATION Younger daughter, Occasional Speeder, thinks our villa holidays are languid, unstructured, lacking in direction so she's created a schedule covering the whole fortnight. Yesterday she locked us into "the definitive supermarket” (Super U at Clermont l'Hérault) followed by morning drinks (coded 4 OJ, 1AJ, 1 DC), lunchtime drinks (2L, 3 Lf, 2 Sp), a speculative Cathedral?, ending with evening drinks (3 BW, 3 L). And the answer's no. I neither know what these drinks are or whether I consumed them.

Today the list insisted we went to Collioure, a narrow-streeted port, inserted basin-like into the cliffs, prettily regarding the Med and close to the Spanish border. Very soon we discovered Collioure's USP (unique selling proposition) was parking; there wasn't much of it and all of it was jam-packed. It seemed that either OS or I, the two insured drivers, would have to drop the others, park in an empty field 2 km out then walk back in for lunch.

Just before this sub-plan was put into action we noticed a P-sign, followed it 800 m. more in hope than expectation and found ourselves in an enormous, virtually empty car-park near the station. Four hours cost us 4.5 euros and then the penny dropped. All that scrabbling round the town had been for free parking. Anything rather than pay £3.

FRANCE: CONSUMABLES In Le Fregate, a restaurant overlooking the harbour I ordered loup mediterrané entière – a whole sea-bass. OS ordered a dorade (bream) that wasn't labelled whole, but came whole and was, in any case, bigger than my fish. Go figure.

In a deliciously cool and empty Collioure wine bar, done out in bare stone and devoted to selling regional wines, I ordered Banyuls for the first time: a red wine tres sucré. Rather like a dessert sherry but lighter. A white is also available. Probably good with certain types of cheese. I liked it; is this a sign of growing age?

I must confess, in Hereford we use quilted toilet paper - our justification being that that's a part of one's body one shouldn't misuse. The French have no idea: miserable, almost transparent stuff, eminently vulnerable to a misdirected finger. Yes, I know it's in bad taste but people should be warned.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Fox, chicken, bag of grain


FRANCE: A MATTER OF LOGISTICS A villa holiday 900 miles from home at the other side of the Channel requires planning. Dull stuff but we've worked hard on this:

Provisions are needed for that first evening yet the boot (trunk) is full. Do you stop, buy lots of consumables (inc. bottles) and make life hell over the final 10 km for those in the back seat? Or go straight there, unload and return to the supermarket? General fatigue and enhanced impatience have always discouraged the latter.

We tried a variant. VR and I were dropped at the supermarket where we immediately started to shop. Occasional Speeder, husband Darren and supercargo Zach drove to the villa, unloaded, and OS drove the empty car back.

It worked because VR and I had a list. Previously when the whole group roamed the aisles there'd been far too much impulse-buying. Exotic bits and pieces hanging around into the second week. This time indulgences were confined to a bottle of Grand Marnier, a strange deviation presently turning into a post all on its own.

FRANCE: WHAT TO DO ON HOLIDAY? I brought my titchy Compaq netbook in order to write and revise a new novel. This morning, I got going:

Work at the hospital started at seven-thirty. Jess Embery rose early but not earlier than her mother. As Jess opened the bedroom door the smell of toast rose up the staircase. On the landing, on top of the laundry basket, lay a folded pile of smalls she'd worn over the weekend. Secreted from her bedroom while she slept. Hand-laundered. Jess sighed.

None of these words may survive, only that the mother dotes on the daughter. Working title: Hand Signals, hideously ironic. Penny plain style intentional. A good moment for me. Anything might happen.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Getting there


FRANCE: ABLUTIONS Attending to one's bodily needs in remote French pensions thirty years ago was worse than a lottery since there was little chance of winning. Frequently, one needed to go down the corridor. Very quickly VR refused to see this as part of life's bacterial tapestry and demanded facilities en suite. These days no problem. In fact, we've moved up a step: on the long drive down to the Languedoc we split the 900-mile journey at somewhere offering heartless modern convenience, the Hell with wisteria-clad frontages and apple-cheeked patronnes. The Hotel Mercure at Orléans was indistinguishable from a typical US Holiday Inn, and had a room capable of accommodating two king-size beds.

No contact with locals? We ate at a well recommended fish restaurant Le Bigorneau where I contrived to fall out with the waitress; later I enjoyed a stimulating conversation on contact-lens fluid (in French) with the receptionist at the Mercure.

One snag. Hotel baths are now shaped to save water and to provide sufficient grappling points so that even a partially paralysed octogenarian need not drown. Which means they fit like a cheap coffin and great tracts of skin are denied contact with the water. Or maybe I'm just too fat.
FRANCE: ROADS/DRIVING Tolls on French motorways (autoroutes) are quite punitive but the roads are better surfaced and maintained, and the traffic lighter than on the British equivalents. Certainly this is the case with the A75 due south from Paris towards Clermont Ferrand and over the exhilarating Millau Bridge. Perfect for cruise control. On one stretch I kept it engaged for nearly an hour - a bit like riding in a private train. Far from lulling you it allows you to concentrate on your road position and your next move.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

The post I won't write

I have a horrible photograph of myself. I am squatting, a huge sandwich in my right hand, smiling paternally at my fragile, beautiful elder daughter who's probably a year old. My cheeks are shiny and rounded like those deep red apples which taste of nothing. The fabric of my trousers is stretched to bursting over my thighs and buttocks. The year is 1964 and I weigh 18½ stones. For Americans that's 259 lb.

I like to pretend I'm not physically vain (intellectual vanity is another matter) and I pondered accompanying this piece with that photo. But my resolve wilted. Not for your sake but for mine; I find it hard to look at that strangeness.

That photo provoked good news and bad news. A year's dieting, plus cycling to and from the office, removed 4½ stones (63 lb). But at the end of that year I crossed the Atlantic west.

To blog about dieting is to commit an offence against common decency. And there's a quick explanation. Serious dieting demands an obsessional outlook; the dieter becomes his or her diet, bereft of interest to others, a creature with shrunken horizons. Don't kid yourself. People may ostensibly applaud your mad-eyed tales about lost ounces but behind that facade they're yawning, hoping you'll explode. Slightly outside their working radius.

All addictions are boring. Reading about a Glaswegian main-lining heroin, it's obvious the writer's become a professional drug addict. Researching drugs. Over-doing food's similar if more complicated. We need food to live. The most successful diet is starvation and death proves it. OK punk, says your trapped reader, why don't you make my day.

Ulysses is on my Kindle and I'll be re-reading that soon. Playing the Takacs doing the late quartets. Starting a new novel. My new diet? There'll be none of that.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Modern and eloquent

Edmund Wilson, now dead, was at one time America's best-known literary critic. He ended up fat, bald-headed, bad-tempered and given to suicidal raids on the refrigerator. Nevertheless he wrote one of the greatest appreciations of Joyce's Ulysses in the simplest of English (and, boy, how that helps).

But for once this isn't a Ulysses rant. Soon after the end of WW2 Wilson, on a visit to London, describes in his diary (a huge entertainment in its own right) his own bad temper and his dislike of poncy, inadequate, broken-down England. He speaks gloomily and apprehensively about a new opera he is about to see. And then, because honesty was always his bag, he describes his surprise and delight in what he experienced. That opera was Benjamin Britten's Peter Grimes.

As always, the usual caveat. This is not a recommendation, I don't do those. Just a few observations following our first encounter - shockingly late in the day - with the work last night.

PG is a modern opera, still. At their best modern operas are able to treat subtler, more realistic themes than the classics; the price you pay is modern music. PG concerns itself with the outsider versus society: a fisherman whose erratic behaviour (and worse) puts him at odds with the people in the port where he lives. VR admitted she was almost as apprehensive as old Wilson. Both of us watched in complete silence and afterwards she said: "Parts of that were beautiful." Quite true because of (not despite) the screechy violins.

No point in saying more. Other than that the major soprano role is called Ellen Orford. God, how I envy Britten that name.

Saturday, 1 June 2013

You dig; the earth slips back

Time to eschew flights of fancy and tackle something serious. Dawkins (whom I've several times paid to watch) is being shellacked in this parish and I could defend him. But he doesn't need me, any more than Joe Louis did in his prime. How about gardening then? Nothing seriouser.

Gardening has always displeased me but, because VR watches Gardener's World, little bits have stuck like slug slime. I know, for instance, what "structure" means horticulturally.

Because we now employ a gardener I can complain to someone other than God. The gardener is a deacon at Hereford Baptist Church and I like the accidental symmetry.

The gardener is too grand to watch Gardener's World so I taxed him on "structure". He didn't know, but contrived to imply this was unimportant. His name is Brian.

Brian favours bare patches of earth - a negation of structure. "The plants will grow together," he said while planting. But I wanted the earth covered up there and then. When Brian rhapsodised about loam I simply walked away.

Tulips did well this year - something Brian and I were agreed on. But I didn't like Brian's attitude towards dead-heading. Too brisk, too heartless, tearing away tulip memories. Baptists should show tenderness. My grandpa was a Baptist minister. Had a club foot.

I've looked to employ korm (no idea how it's spelt), an impressive horti-speak fiddle-de-dee. I got it wrong when I carelessly identified a bulb as a korm. Brian apostrophised me and it hurt. I quoted Hilaire Belloc:

The dear old butler thought, but there,
I do not think I really care
For what the dear old butler thought.
In my opinion butlers ought
To know their place and not to play
The old retainer, day by day.

The world turns.