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, 31 August 2013

Too big a calling card?

Lincoln, directed by Steven Spielberg, proved to be an absorbing movie, admirably conveying the cramped, unhygienic way people lived and worked in the mid-nineteenth century. Not least in the House of Representatives which looked like an East End pub on Christmas Eve. And while Daniel Day-Lewis was as good as anybody you'll ever see in the cinema he was well supported by actors with lesser names.

Lincoln often manipulated people via anecdote, one of them especially telling, I thought. Some politician apologised for producing a lengthy tract. In his defence, he said, "I was too lazy to make it shorter."

I reflected on my self-imposed 300-word limit and felt briefly smug. Alas the moment was only too brief. My posts may be  kept to 300 words but my comments on others' blogs often run on and on. Is there a parallel here reflecting the laws of hospitality? Am I risking outstaying my welcome with this grandiloquence? Is it the equivalent of cutting myself a huge slice of cake at someone else's afternoon tea?

I could say my Linkspeople are good listeners. Put perhaps I'm not giving them any alternative. One of those matters I ponder at at 3 am under the wing-beat of the Angel of Death. The conclusions are  pessimistic but at least dawn is always welcome.
  
WIP Second Hand (30,694 words)
(In the customer services section) there were even gentle hints about make-up and a tidier hair-style. Plus a new level of formality from the women who’d worked alongside her at the tills - no longer Frankie she was now Miss Embery. Lorne warned her not to lose her temper with customers who came in to complain but Francine enjoyed these encounters most of all. Restraint, like revenge, was a response best practised cold.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Silly season in the Marches


HURRAY FOR HFD Professional Bleeder and partner, Peter, are staying. They live in Luton and cannot agree with a local judgment that nearby Harpenden is "the most beautiful village in England". For one thing it's more of a townlet, for another a main road runs through it. I suggest that Eardisland, 20 miles outside Hereford, might be a stronger contender. We drive there, PB takes pix with her camera and we all come away smugly satisfied that Harpenden hasn't a hope.
Sir Hugh's advice is worth the effort.

BELATED DISCOVERY Peter is a great Kindle user. Can walk to work reading, without tripping over kerbstones or being squashed flat by a white van. I say I wished older Kindles offered page numbers rather than percentages especially with long books. He says there is a way - hold down Menu and the page number plus the total number of pages appears. But no doubt you all knew this.

BROTHERHOOD? I leave the cathedral close and enter Church Street, a narrow atmospheric ginnel left over from Old Hereford. A lad sits with a begging tray, reading a thick old hardback, his finger moving painfully along the line. He's still there when I return and I drop a pound coin in his tray. I hate doing this because I always need change but occasionally there are larger obligations.

WIP Second Hand (30,134 words)
(Lorne said) "Perhaps you’d be better off working in customer services... More interesting than till-work... How do you feel?”

(Francine said) "Sounds like an intellectual step up...  What’s this about training?”

“Knowing where we keep gherkins. Explaining why and what World Foods are. Working the Lottery machine. Arguing the toss about out-of-date vouchers. Handling returns. Knowing kids’ ages when they order cigarettes. Fun stuff.”

Monday, 26 August 2013

Unexpectedly a clothes horse

This photograph deserves wide dissemination for a variety of reasons.

Note the hands: together they occupy as much space as the head. The reasons for this must go unexplained. Possibly anticipation. The surroundings indicate a well-regarded watering hole.

The jacket, the shirt, and the unseen trousers and braces (US: suspenders) are being worn for the first time. In compensation the underpants are over ten years old and the socks may be two decades old. The support hose is in a lamentable state of decay but will shortly be replaced free, despite its shocking retail price of £50 a pair, by Britain's well-beloved National Health Service. Eat your heart out North Dakota.

The mode of tranportation to and from this location was also  unique: a sixteen-seat bus.

But the most remarkable detail is what's in the glass. An Italian wine based on the nero di troia grape. Wikipedia tells us "The name probably derives from the town of Troia in the Province of Foggia whose legendary founder was the Greek hero Diomedes, who had destroyed the ancient Troy." Can't see how this is is a good recommendation but it was a first in an evening of firsts.

The hair was washed three days before the event. Thus it meets the standards implicit in Clean in the owner's personal set of shampoo gradations: Clean, Dodgy, Unforgivable.

WIP Second Hand (29,317 words)
Thinking there was more to come he waited, then realised he’d been made a fool of. “You’re trying to get up my nose.”

(Francine said) “Not intentionally.”

“Accidentally’s just as bad,” he said

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Why thumb-twiddling was invented

Adults rarely admit to being bored. It's thought to be a character flaw. Pensioners are particularly defensive: "In the old days we made our own entertainment." they say as if that exonerated them from under-occupation. I, being even older, envisage them playing Tin-Can Squat. Alone. In a cobbled street. Bordered by outdoor loos.
      
You can be bored by something, or by nothing. Huw Edwards the BBC newsreader bores me. His orotund voice saps even exciting news. I suppose he’d be a perfect candidate to tell me I was suffering from an incurable illness. "The incurable illness is you, Huw," I'd say. "You are oblivion incarnate."
      
Being bored by nothing is thought to be the boree's fault. Clever people have brains which play imaginary bagatelle, Texas Hold'em, even Russian Roulette. Such brains can read novels not yet written without the aid of a Kindle. Really clever people do not suffer from boredom; otherwise they'd cease to be clever.
      
It’s possible I fall asleep at night because I’ve been overtaken by boredom. If true this disqualifies me from being clever. I'd argue the point but, alas, there's too much supporting evidence elsewhere. The only unwritten novels I can read are by me.
     
Ciabatta's boring.
      
WIP Second Hand (29,182 words)
From the expression on his face she guessed Ogrill had some crushingly managerial response to make. Unfortunately for him he was forced to restrain himself as a customer started piling purchases on Francine’s previously empty conveyor. “See me in my office,” he said hurriedly.

“When?”

“In your break, o’course.”

“In my break?” Francine was able to invest her protest with a whine she’d picked up from other women who worked in the store. An eloquent whine which stopped just short of being impertinent.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

It sounds so persuasive

Professional Bleeder, the ex-phlebotomist, is staying with us. As an act of kindness she volunteered to re-register VR with the National Lottery, a niggling task that took years off the life of her sister, Occasional Speeder, when she tried.

PB often acts as the Family Ferret, sent into dark places to roust recalcitrant people at the end of phone lines. The registration was proceeding slowly when PB was asked for our post code, HR2. Then asked to spell it. "Hello - Roger - Two," she said. The recalcitrant one pounced: "No, Hotel - Romeo - two."

Later PB and I decided to teach ourselves the official Phonetic Alphabet to avoid future clashes. It took less than five minutes since we already seemed to know a lot of the terms. Then we tested each other and I became Romeo-Oscar-Delta-Echo-Romeo-India-Charlie-Kilo. Doing Symonds Yat I briefly forgot Y (Yankee) but I'm fluent now.

Most people don't bother. But it can be a source of techno-superiority while others struggle. If you like that kind of thing.

WIP Second Hand (28,965 words)
Working days (at the supermarket) reminded her of a holiday spent at Brighton as a six-year-old. It had rained continuously and her parents, desperate to find indoor entertainment, had entered an amusement arcade. The distorting mirrors, the quoits and the worthless soft-toy prizes were seen as trashy but Francine had been drawn to a bagatelle played with a ball-bearing so heavy her childish fingers could hardly set it in motion. The fascination lay in the ball’s path, worn away over the years on the game’s vertical playing surface. For two-thirds of its trajectory, before it reached diverters, the ball lacked freedom, was compelled to follow the same route...  Francine’s young mind grappled with the fact that the early part of the route was pre-ordained.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Approval that came too late

I usually avoid posts which preen. There's more mileage in prat-falls and self-inflicted idiocy. Halos encourage solemnity and I seek not to be po-faced. However...

A youth in a fairly tough school was faced with responding to six love poems, then picking one which best summarised his own feelings "Does it have to be one of the six?" he asked. "Can I choose one from elsewhere?" This was allowed.

Marking the essay the English teacher said she didn't recognise the author of the seventh poem. Gave the essay an A*.

You can see where this is leading. Elder daughter, Professional Bleeder, teaches science in the same school. She printed out a sonnet from a familiar blog deliberately omitting the author's name, showed it to the lad who approved and who used it in his essay. Ironically the sonnet's author has never been marked A* (or A-plus, A, A-minus, etc)  for anything. The moderator's comments are awaited with interest.

The lad was 15 yet the sonnet pragmatically surveys the love resident in a fiftieth wedding anniversary. No lovey-dovey, no trains entering tunnels. If you decide to CLICK try the Alan Bennett sound-alike doing the reading.

WIP Second Hand (28,869 words)
SUPERMARKET work, expected to be a treadmill, turned out to be surprise. (Francine) was prepared to accept unattractive shifts and found herself almost alone at her till in the small hours, reading Dickens novels surreptitiously or acting as a conversational butt to lonesome people seeking a two-way exchange that all-night television could not furnish. (Another) unexpected pleasure (included) dozing through the noise of morning traffic.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Give me a child until...

The Guardian's been running a series; Books That Have Influenced Me. Much rarer, I would have thought, than books that have proved merely enjoyable. I could only come up with Swallows And Amazons. But not for obvious reasons.

My mother read S&A to me and the images took years to develop. Only now are they recognisable. Only the Walker children (the Swallows) influenced me.

The four Walkers are autonomous and mainly adult-free. The environment is dinghy sailing, demanding skills and self-reliance. John is the eldest, invested with authority and competence. Susan is deputy leader, domestically skilled and given to a more caring version of John's authority. Titty, as  I recall, is literary minded and fanciful. Roger is the youngest, untutored and impulsive.

Like many children I cultivated an imaginary circle of friends. The closest, and most reliable, was called John. That fable grew. I realise now that, young as I was, I dimly saw the Walkers as an ideal version of society. Benign authority directed towards shared aims, protective of the young - though many years passed before I summarised it that way. Adolescence brought disillusionment but I think I was comforted by that ideal up til then. A genuine influence.

WIP Second Hand (28,485 words)
Chinelo looked up at the building. “You’re on the third floor, aren’t you? I’ll help you take up some of these boxes.”
      
It took three trips each; medical books tend to be heavy. Chinelo, slightly overweight, slumped on Francine’s couch and breathed heavily. Otherwise the midnight building throbbed silently. “Got a pop?” Chinelo asked.
      
Francine looked in the fridge. “How about lemon squash with fizzy water?”
      
“Why do you complicate your life? For God’s sake, you’d have to make that drink. Can of Coke you flip the ring-top and you’re ready to go.”
     

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Tone Deaf takes unexpected detour

Pop music is appreciated over a wide educational spectrum but readable comments (as opposed to single adjectives condemning or worshipping) are rare. I enjoyed Caroline's Sullivan's review of Snow Patrol in The Guardian.

"(Lightbody - the singer) snuggles up behind guitarist Nathan Connolly and runs his hands over Connolly's head during the line 'Happy lost in your hair.' ... maybe it's the price Connolly pays for being allowed to crank up the power riffs on the set's twin peaks, Run and Chasing Cars. This is the pair of weepies that have cemented the idea that Snow Patrol are the Poundland Coldplay - all the sentimentality, none of the complexity. But played live, the songs assume a certain lovelorn dignity.

"Chasing Cars ends with Lightbody murmuring: "Oh, oh, oh." He suddenly laughs, and says, "Can't we have the cameras on the front row?" A dozen fans are holding signs prepared for this moment, saying simply: "Oh." It's a sweet moment in a show unexpectedly full of them."

WIP Second Hand. (27,724 words. She is Francine. Winston is a hospital porter. The Jaguar is borrowed.)

“Not too well, Winston.”

She used his name deliberately and that surprised him. But his concern remained unchanged. “Ah shit, hon.” Vauxhalls and Nissans slowed respectfully as he steered the Jaguar out into the road. He added, “Ah’m so sorry, babe. You wanna talk or stay peaceful, like?”

She liked babe, liked his easeful talk. “I’m English, you’re English. You know the English, Winston. We never talk about anything serious. Well I’m fed up with being English.”

He laughed, head tilted back, mouth open, exposing his teeth – one gold. “You and me, babe. I like that. But I’m still sorry.”

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Tools not gadgets

We've talked about specialised cooking implements and the cumulative madness they bring about. For a time we had a pan intended solely for cooking asparagus (courtesy of Vic, VR's dad, who was a chef). A cylinder that held the stalks upright, thus boiling the lower depths while exposing the tips only to steam and splashes of hot water. A good theory given that the tips need less cooking. But how do you check whether the lower depths are done?

These days VR boils asparagus in a frying pan where shallowness ensures all is easily accessible. Does it a lot too. Asparagus is our favourite veg.

Some specialised tools are vital. You may prepare oysters once or twice a year but you're up the creek called merde  without an oyster knife. Madness lies in unnecessary specialisation. You buy a melon baller, then one meant to tackle Gaia melons, then a larger one for water melons. Soon, all collect dust.

I didn't know we had this ice-cream scoop, acquired recently. In theory I should be against it: what's wrong with a serving/table spoon dipped in hot water? But it's a delight to use, its mechanism strong and well proven. Easy to clean, despite its nadgery.

Does anyone really approve of fish knives?

Confession: our culinary chopper may gather dust but it hangs on the window frame, doesn’t take up much space, looks brutally beautiful. Good for threatening Jehovah's Witnesses.

WIP Second Hand (26,803 words; New space adds to wordplay.)
DURING her student days Francine had quickly seen the need for a laptop. And, shortly after, had recognised the benefits of touchtyping. A few weeks of self-imposed discipline and her agile fingers did the rest. Soon she was recording comprehensive and legible material directly from lectures which clumsier, less far-sighted students could only envy.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Why I am who I am




Pittsburgh, Christmas 1971

I waited, knowing the festivities
Would choke the flow of  transatlantic calls,
Delays which brought their own blank auguries,
A prelude to the saddest of farewells.

“Ah… yes…,” my brother said, quite languidly,
Languor that looked for comfort in delay.
But what he added lacked necessity,
The link was cut and youth had gone astray.

She died within a distant older place
I’d left behind with callow eagerness,
Yet unrestrained by any false embrace,
Encouraged, taught, with chances of success.

She wrote, I write, but here’s the difference
No letters, now, to foil my ignorance.

AUGUST 11 My mother’s birthday. She would have been 107, a cumbersome uninteresting fact. I write because, among other things, she encouraged me. Her poems were published in small magazines.

I did this sonnet a year or two ago, posted it then. The clumsy and obscure eleventh/twelfth lines irritate the hell out of me but I’ll let them be. Defects can be eloquent: revision is more than half the battle.

My mother wrote under her unmarried name: Dorothy Hilda Stringer. A workaday sort of name. It’s all a long time ago. But her interest in what I do still reaches out: full of emotion yet useful.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Quick call to PP was all it took

Relaxing between paragraphs I pick out tunes on my Yamaha keyboard. Hymns mostly, they're the simplest. The aim being to get the notes in order at a reasonable speed, nothing more.

In C-major, using just the white keys. But with some tunes I found I had to use a black key. The same black key too; B-flat since you ask. Remember these are very simple tunes that any congregation can sing; shouldn't be any need for sharps or flats.

Puzzled, I emailed the Prague Polymath, Julia. She knows most things, certainly everything about music. Turned out she was in Berlin, away from her books. Away from a keyboard too. She needed neither. Seems I was playing these maverick tunes in F-major, a key that only differs from C-major by one black note: B-flat. Always a sceptic (journalism does that for you) I played the tune in both keys but I knew she was right before I started. Beats Google.

DIET No measurable weight loss but I can tie up my laces without puffing. Then the ultimate achievement: cutting my toe-nails and not suffering syncope. I am a new man. More tolerant of the world. Regarding DC as merely a twerp and not a transmission from Hades.

WIP Secondhand (23,091 words written)
(Francine speaking:) "I’ve never seen myself as sexually attractive: I have this elf-like face, I’m thin rather than slender, I’ve no small talk. Someone once called my complexion old ivory; more honestly it’s pale sallow. Martin’s a vital sort of chap, Mediterranean confidence backed up by early success as a painter. I was bowled over by the way he approached me; the technical – anatomical – way he talked about my looks. I was flattered, no doubt about it. I slept with him at his first time of asking."

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Food texture: blight or benison?

Leeks, a powerful and essential addition to stews, are slimy when boiled alone. Tomato slices in a sandwich transfer moisture to the bread and render it soggy. Potatoes, slightly under-boiled, are crunchily unbearable. Oatcakes feel like chipboard. Green beans, tinned or frozen, lose all rigidity; cannot be cooked al dente. Just a few of my culinary texture problems.

VR cannot bear undissolved sugar crystals in her mouth. Worries about the endless chewability of roast chicken skin. Hates pork pie juice turned to jelly. Has to peel her broad beans.

An unsympathetic texture may result in unpalatibility. But texture can also be the source of  new pleasure. Tesco's coarse-ground mince adds almost a new dimension to bolognese sauce, making me aware I'm eating meat, not meat-flavoured slurry. I asked one of Hereford's many independent butchers about coarse grinding; simple; just one pass through the mincer, not two. Didn't work.

The answer, says VR, lies in the Magimix food processor. Cut rump steak into cubes and subject it to pulsed three-second bursts of the double blade. Visually check. Another burst. Another check. We'll see. (PS: I'm a sucker for coarse paté and coarse sausages).
   
WIP Secondhand (22,685 words)
“It’s this damn office. Too typically police.” In fact the office was wholly anonymous but Wyss needed to bridge the gap that had yawned between them.

“Look, there’s a park nearby. Would it help if we were out of doors?”

Still no response.

“Or would that make things worse? It happened in a car park, didn’t it?  An open space. Sometimes that can lead to agoraphobia.”

Her head rose and her eyes widened. “I hadn’t heard that.”

“Outside your bailiwick....

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

And now? Silk undies!

Normally, I wallow in shabby clothing. But quite soon I'll need something smarter. A jacket. Google will help me out. Oh no, Google won't.

There's terminology. What I need, says Google, is a blazer. Quelle horreur! Brass buttons, smooth navy material, a fake coat-of-arms on the breast pocket. I hate blazers. But jackets are now called blazers. Live with it.

Then there's size. Three too-small blazers acquired online have already been returned. It seems 48R is not an implied chest measurement it's merely a numerical grade, as with women's stuff. ("I really need a 14 but I can squeeze into a 12.") The hell with online.

Symonds in Hereford is a men's outfitter. A sixtyish man, showing an inch of cuff, welcomes me. Gets the size right, offers me an almost black tweed. Too dark, too dull. "Oh no, it's a green mix." Out on the street I see he's right. "It's what you wear with it that counts," he adds.

And what about the red satin lining? My dear! The price is enormous but there's a sale on and it's down 40%. With the "savings" I buy light blue trousers to which Symonds will attach buttons for my braces. VR, who's paying, purrs with approval. Online? Mainly for midgets who are into leather.

Note the curve of the lips. A perfect croquet hoop.

WIP Secondhand (née Hand Signals) (Over the 20,000-word barrier)
Francine stood up. “I’m fascinated but you’ll have to talk while we prep.”

As they put on their blues Chinelo said, “I envy you your hair. I’ve read references to corn-silk but never seen it. It floats and flops, virtually a blonde hologram. And when you put on your cap it’s entirely contained. Unlike this wiry black hedge of mine that cannot, just cannot be controlled.”

Sunday, 4 August 2013

Hey, think of the alternative...

In a matter of days I'll be 78. Assuming I make it I'll have breathed in and breathed out 819,935,000 times. Time enough to have got the hang of breathing.

You'ld've thought.

But no. A week ago I was receiving therapeutic instruction on this very subject. No big deal. I rest my hand on my belly and breathe normally, unself-consciously, for about ten minutes. Easy peasy. Hand on hips I do some more. Then I huff a few times. Finally... but there's no point in going on because I haven't managed to do the first bit for more than seven or eight seconds. I've got L-plates when it comes to breathing.

Where do you do it? Now, in front of the computer? Quick as lightning I'm playing solitaire. On the couch downstairs? I try to read the CD spines. In bed, lights out? On come the sexual fantasies. While driving? Whoops, I'm over the centreline.

But in 11 days’ time I'm seeing the therapist to check progress. There won't be any. And she'll give me that soft, critical look. Thinking: we're doing our best to comfort lungs born in Bradford. Third World lungs.

Breathing's hard. Perhaps my genes saw me as a herring (with gills) and I took the wrong evolutionary turning. Next winter I'll be coughing again, feeling my socks fighting to rise up through my airways.
 
WIP Hand signals (19,240 words done)
In the empty theatre he stuck his finger out and she looped and tied half a dozen sutures round it as he watched. Then she held out her finger. After three attempts he had already re-created the movements and after eight he was as fast as she was.

He grunted and by now Francine recognised this was his most positive form of praise.