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 March 2014

Source of much talk

Technically we were mourners but a pox on that for a lugubrious word. So much animation with Joe invisibly providing the conversational springboard. Breathless, I  fancied that these eloquent, beautiful people were conspiring to re-create a Blogger's Retreat lunch as a group affair. Joe, you should have been alive for that

Filing into the chapel we were conscious of a dreadful sequence: Heidi gone in late December, Joe a bare ten weeks later. Two unforgettable individuals. But to have remained silent or to have whispered would have been a poverty-stricken reaction. As the pair of them had talked so did we. Forced to leave Heidi's funeral early, this time I sought her two daughters and was drawn into a discussion about how acts of creation may occur unplanned and unexpected on a canvas. H and J, both painters, listened I am sure.

Tunbridge Wells, that samovar of middle-class spirit, was applauded and condemned with equal vigour. A gorgeous young woman spoke of a travelling circus and seemed impossibly moved to discover that she and RR/VR had lived on the same street in central London. A neighbour who had chauffeured Joe to and from the supermarket spoke about his cargo with affection.

It seems invidious to name individuals but I must mention Joe's offspring. Both were admirably cast as poetry readers: Toby handling Roy Campbell's translation of Baudelaire's The Voyage (discovered for the occasion by Joe's brother, Ken), Pippa a sonnet by Joe (And yet, you must keep saying "and yet"...). Over dinner they reminisced about their tumultuous childhoods, causing us to laugh and to sorrow.

Nor can I ignore Lucy (needs no introduction) who left Brittany at a shockingly early hour, circulated in style among the Tunbridge Wells chat and was only brought low when I incautiously suggested she joined VR and me for a nightcap before turning in. Kay-legged with fatigue she may - or may not - have been briefly a little moist about the eyes as she talked yearningly about bed.

I spoke from the lectern about Joe. People were kind, even if I was dissastified. Trying to be modest (The leopard, always remember the leopard.) I listed myself as A Friend then realised this is a role that is awarded, it cannot be assumed. I worried too about literary contrivances, tricks that may have done duty as sincerity. I saw that "being a writer" is a subjective state and briefly wished I could have claimed to be a juggler to provide undeniably honest entertainment.

Fortunately as I resumed my seat a hand accommodated mine. But that won't save me from getting some stick about that juggling remark, revealed here for the first time.

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Care in the community

Recently I have written about sad, theoretical even whimsical  matters. A touch of Barrett Bonden may compensate. This post is devoted entirely to EATRSS (emergency and adjacent toilet roll storage systems - EATs for short). A photograph is provided for those as yet unaware of these symbolic domestic devices.

Why? They prove we recognise the perils of social (and hygienic) embarassment in the home, that we care for our guests' well-being, that our baronial estate extends to advance bulk buying of toilet rolls (a point reinforced if the paper is of the quilted variety), that we take a holistic view of our ablutionary facilities.

Potential dangers. (1) A dilemma. May a guest tear off sheets from the temporarily stored roll or is there an implied obligation to install the roll in the holder? There is genuine agony here. How is the guest required to deal with the surplus-to-requirements cardboard tube from the previous roll? And suppose the toilet roll holder is one of those tricky ones with a detent that can only be depressed with an artisanal thumb nail.

(2) A confusion. EATs are usually stored at the side of the sit-down bit. But not everyone is EAT-conscious. Can the host rely on the guest looking in this direction? And consider this awful denouement: suppose the EAT is not descried and the guest's distress is announced in a quavery voice. "At the side of the loo," comes the robust reply. And the guest is twice cursed for (a) having to bleat, and (b) not discovering the EAT in the first place. Would a small poster, in a discreet typeface, overcome charges of naffness?

Psychological benefits.Sitting in front of the telly, about to turn on the X-factor or some other wretchedness, the host is comforted by the fact that all the EATs (We have three in our house so we are triply blessed) are, as it were, full to the brim. Never mind whether it would take a catastrophic and universal attack of dysentery to test this phenomenon fully; we are warmed by having met our middle-class obligations.

Cheapness. Recent inspection of the EAT closest to my atelier reveals that the price sticker is still attached: £1.99. Never has such a small expenditure (even multiplied by three) brought such tangible benefit. I urge all those who have not invested in this simple device - even though they live in foreign parts where social mores may differ - to consider their responsibilities in this light.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Totentanz


I am dancing with Elsie the Discontented, a woman given to accusation and  condemnation, who feeds on argument and whose bitter voice rises in all conversation. Elsie is a virago. She manages the photographic department and is ever at odds with me and other junior employees on the editorial side.

As we move round this otherwise empty dance floor I imagine her more normally, tensing as I enter the company's vast store of photo negatives, preparing to disagree.

We are not dancing to music but to fragments of verse with Welsh associations:

Waking slowly into the hangover that is Wales.
Ap blue jawed,
Ap regretful.


How can Elsie have agreed to this? She says nothing and her face is neither happy nor unhappy. Austere, perhaps? Yes that will do.

This must be set in 1959 when I was twenty-four and she fortyish. The ages and the gap are significant. Then, age tended to carry authority and that put me at a further disadvantage. Made up, her face is nevertheless worn and irregularly discoloured. As was the style then, her lips are always lipsticked: a deliberately artificial crimson. Her black hair, possibly dyed, is tightly permed, a smooth dome in the centre, surrounded by a lifebelt of curls.

I am in awe of my situation. For a short period Elsie's anger is at rest and her presence lacks menace.

But I am a time traveller. This inexplicable event is being re-created in 2014 and Elsie is almost certainly dead. I suppose I have finally won the undefined argument, if briefly. I'm not inclined to celebrate.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Competing with Gary



I have preached the doctrine of cutting out guff but my cry goes unheeded.

Consider this: we spend time reading; we waste time if the words we read are unnecessary. Cutting is the act of a friend.

Sorry about the dirge. I’ve been writing a piece for Joe’s funeral and time and words are becoming interchangeable. My first draft is a jewel. I time it: twelve minute plus. An alarm buzzes.

As well it might. Joe’s daughter, Pippa, says the whole service will last a mere twenty minutes. I cut my jewel by a third, down to eight minutes, which proves the original wasn’t a jewel. The result is better. Not good, just better.

The ghost of Joe sits by my elbow. Throughout our professional lives we’ve rendered prose shorter because in publishing there’s never enough space. Joe’s too gentlemanly to comment since I’m writing about him. But he nods his approval as half a sentence is sliced – the words are already implied and I recognise this on the third read-though. Gotcha!

What I’m writing is not an article; it’s intended to be read aloud. Not one of my strengths. I have a lightish whining voice that doesn’t match my bulk. Frequently my nose sounds blocked. I could write something felicitous and have it ruined by my West Riding origins. 

Joe’s reading Romain Gary’s Gros Calin and I can’t help feeling it’s his polite way of saying my stuff isn’t good enough. Never mind the subject, the writing is technically poor, it doesn’t glide. Start again?

I’m 78 going on a hundred. Once I was paid to write but would anyone pay me now? Forget that, it isn’t the money. Start again.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

The Methuselah factor

Old people are good at organising; self-defence, really.

We needed a good, long-established restaurant where we’d eaten before. The Stagg at Titley (The Tit At Staggley?) met all three criteria. Plus a bed to avoid a 45-minute taxi home and the possibility of a Ukrainian driver agonising about the Crimea.

We arrived yesterday at six; dinner at eight. More careful organisation saw pink champagne delivered to our room. Thus we paced our consumption, licking up the last drop at 19.59. Pink champagne is comparatively new to me, a different beast, more expensive, wasted when drunk out of a stiletto-heeled shoe.

The amuse-bouche was the Stagg’s home-made crisps with a balsamic foam dip. For starters we both had scallops with crab bisque, followed by lamb chops/shoulder with kale (VR) and belly pork (me). I finished with three differently flavoured crème caramels and VR had rhubarb with rhubarb jelly and ice cream.

The red was a real find, Director’s Cut shiraz from the Barossa Valley: a restrained and mature Oz (Sounds like sarcasm, doesn’t it?). Digestifs: a Remy for VR and a Nicaraguan rum (obviously a first) for me.

Ordering which required some money and some experience. But I’ve missed out one thing far more important. Old people are not necessarily good at organising conversation. Fifty-year marriages aren’t always a torrent of well-chosen words. And anyway the more abstemious may believe we were too pie-eyed to care (Not true, actually.)

A meal can survive bad food and bad drink but not bad talk. Yet when all three elements happily combine the result is more than a meal. It’s a window on civilisation. OK, I contributed but I still feel lucky, left to reflect on an unpredictable decision taken back in 1959. Certainly beyond my powers of organisation then.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

23 movies: our scorecard





FIVE STARS
After Life (Japan). Define yourself  in five seconds. Adult, profound,witty. A bucket movie. (Top pic)

The Lunchbox
(India). Love born and nourished via food and letters. (Middle pic)

Nebraska (US).  Old age terrors; filial duty; unglamorous locations. (Bottom pic)

FOUR STARS
Rush (UK). Character-driven Formula One rivalry. Unexpectedly good.

The Past (Iran). Relentlessly close-up family agonies; unbearable but persuasive; Paris.

Inside Llewen Davies (US). Folk-music based Odyssey; quirky Coen brothers give it bite.

Philomena (UK). Mother/lost child saga, Irish style. Excellent Dench/Coogan chemistry

THREE STARS
Museum Hours (Austria/US). Platonic love; art masterpieces; sort of documentary; Vienna.

Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa (UK). Self-serving DJ manages to be funny in police siege.

Marius/Fanny (France), Two parts of Marseille trilogy; love and sacrifice, lightly done. Daniel Auteuil directs and overwhelms (as actor).

Jeune et Jolie (France). Sex-for-sale fantasy. “Only in France”.

Blue Jasmine (US). Sexual/social parasite gets come-uppance – twice.

Patience Stone
(Afghanistan, France, Germany, UK). Muslim wife/mother tested horribly by surrounding war.

Ilo Ilo (Singapore). Phillipino woman is nanny to disintegrating Chinese family

TWO STARS

August: Osage County (US). Banal Gothic family reunion; performances compensate.

Le Week-End (UK). Poorly scripted late-life crisis; Paris. Lindsay Duncan transcends the commonplace.

Gloria (Chile/Spain). Irritating fiftyish optimistic woman drops elderly mendacious businessman.

Monuments Men (US). Surprisingly dull WW2 pursuit of art stolen by Nazis. Irritatingly naïve.

ONE STAR
Her (US). Inarticulate man loves bodiless woman. Scarlett Johannsson compensates as “voice”.

Les Nuits de la Pleine Lune (France). Self-centred amoral Parisian woman sketchily punished for her ways. Director: Eric Rohmer, therefore an acquired taste.

UNJUDGED
All is Lost (US). Not VR’s cuppa.

La Belle et la Bete (France). French classic; not RR’s cuppa.

Friday, 14 March 2014

The compulsive brush

French today. Our novel is No et Moi by Delphine de Vigan. Lou, a lonely young girl from a comfortable middle-class home takes up with No, a slightly older girl who lives rough in Paris.

Crisis time. Having decided to join No in her privations, Lou must pack before her parents get back. First item: a toothbrush. Lou is not alone. In dozens of books people planning quick departures do exactly that.

Me, I'd first pack my wallet. I'd understand if the departers were always American. Good orthodontics divides the free from the enslaved world, says the Declaration of Independence. Bad teeth are worse than incest. But some brush fetishists are from countries that are merely under-developed: France, say, or Great Britain.

Couldn't one's teeth wait? But the question's rhetorical. Last year, departing our rented French villa I left the over-night bag behind. When I arrived at our hotel guess my first purchase from the pharmacy. That's right! I too was transfixed by a universal urge. At the time I was less than 24 hours from home.



TOOLS NEGLECTED Our 20-year-old tumble dryer has tumbled into eternity. It's kept in the shed where space is tight. Needing to record its dimensions I opened up my toolbox to get my measuring tape. How remote the box's contents seemed.

Blogging as the genial Barrett Bonden I was always on about DIY. Angle grinders, Phillips-headed screwdrivers, Carborundum stones – all that manly stuff. Exchanging heart-wrenching stories with Crow and others. Now the closest I get to DIY is changing my desktop background pic. Mind you, I'm happier. For me DIY lacks the letter C: Don’t Imagine You Can.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Joe: Goodbye exhilaration 2

My friend, Joe Hyam (previously Plutarch) died a couple of days ago. Inevitably my valedictory post was as much about me as it was about him; I needed to explain how he affected me for good. I fear I also figure in most of these vignettes but not, I hope, to his detriment.

Our first encounter. He'd written a piece about a complex materials handling system; I was supposed to edit it but one sentence was beyond me. I asked him to explain. He read it aloud and the word "plenum" cropped up. He re-read it, relishing "plenum" each time. A wordsmith, you see.

At a formal dinner-jacket affair I noticed he wore a made-up bow tie. I pointed out the snobby potential of the self-tied bow adding "but never tie it too well; people might think it's made-up". He took my advice and bought a self-tied bow. I was there to see its first outing. He struggled in front of the mirror, ending up with a sort of grannie knot. "Nobody," he said sighing, "will think this is made-up."

We were accosted in central London by an urban hobbledehoy who asked if we were interested in poetry. Joe said yes, whereupon the hobbledehoy sold him a poem, perhaps for 50 p. Joe immediately read the poem and - in a not unkindly tone - pointed out some metrical solecism. This angered the hobbledehoy who handed back the 50 p and snatched the poem. Joe approved of this.

Until I eventually grew up (ie, say age 45) I was prone to incapacitating attacks of embarrassment, especially in social encounters with women. Joe with his magnificently hoity-toity accent, public school education and Oxbridge was not only impervious but liked to prolong embarrassing situations in the spirit of curiosity.

The launch of the Lamb's Navy Rum calendar took place in a Soho cellar where I found myself terrified by an elegant, if louche, woman who wore brilliant green contact lenses which made her look like a werewolf. Joe immediately interrogated her about this startling effect and she revealed, quite unnecessarily, she was a lesbian. Noticing we seemed to be together she recommended homosexual experience as a way of "feeling freer". Joe roared with laughter while I looked around for a refill.

During a shared villa holiday at Concarneau in Brittany the main toilet became blocked. Joe, whose confidence in his spoken French greatly outstripped his competence, announced he would ring the agence and complain. Joe's technique with French natives was to keep on talking to avoid having to understand any of their responses. Unfortunately the woman at the agence was called Lavalou and this undermined any of Joe's pretentions to seriousness.

During that same holiday Joe read Le Grand Meaulnes in French (his grasp of written French was excellent). I repeatedly asked for progress reports but his responses were atypically vague. Such was his dominance over my bookish tastes that I have never dared tackle this masterpiece - in English or French. I have the feeling that I profited and that his vagueness was deliberate.

Joe's language (other than about Jonathan Meades) was never extreme. I remember asking him about a restaurant meal and he described it as "indifferent". It was an object lesson about the usefulness and power of temperate words; that adjective is among my most treasured.

NOTE I see most of these memories are trivial. But I can't bring myself to celebrate Joe as a solemnity. He was kind and generous, true, but most of all he was fun. That must survive.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Joe: Goodbye exhilaration 1

Joe Hyam, still listed among Tone Deaf’s followers by his earlier  blogonym, Plutarch, died last night following heart surgery. I find myself needing a single detail that summarises our friendship dating back to 1963; one that Joe would have approved of. That would do him justice. I don’t have far to look.

His last email to me, only a few days ago, was a generous comment on a short story I’d written. Stated baldly that hardly seems enough but there is a sub-text. For well over a year Joe and I have been at daggers drawn over short stories, arguing the toss about their nature and the way they might be written. Some of this argument has spilled over into our blogs but given that both of us are proto-typical Englishmen – he a gentleman, me far less so – the passion has been under control. To the point where Joe, ravaged by illness, was able to take time off and make the gesture he did. Now, during this moment where a little evident passion is permissible, I offer him this heartfelt tribute: I hope to Hell that had the situation been reversed I’d have done the same for him. Suspecting, of course, that I wouldn’t; I lack his sense of grace.

And already a dialogue  – alas, finally reduced to a monologue – is rattling round in my mind. Above, I’ve used the present tense about Joe and he, more than anyone else, would have urged me to resolve this discrepancy. It isn’t that I’m unaware of the problem, I’m wilfully avoiding it. There’s enough awkwardness in managing the subject of this post; I’d just as soon not wrestle with the niceties of grammar as well. Turning “is” into “was” would introduce further imperfections into prose I am trying desperately to render as clearly as possible. Only that, no purple passages. Joe, I tell myself, would understand.

In 1963 I moved to a new job as sub-editor of two magazines dealing with logistics. One edited by Joe. Thus, part of my work was to ensure Joe’s written stuff had syntactical virtue. Word processors were aeons away and corrections to the typescript were by pen. Joe’s writing was terrible and he favoured black felt-tips. We clashed. I got angry; he endured my anger calmly. Within weeks we were talking about George Eliot.

When I returned from the USA he was by then in charge of both magazines and offered me a writing job. Twice our two families shared villa holidays in Brittany and both Joe and I developed what I can only describe as an infatuation with the French language. Eventually I became an editor and for a time geography reduced us mainly to the telephone but we still kept in touch. Joe had always lived in the south-east and when I moved to Hereford it seemed as if our friendship would shrink to the exchange of Christmas cards. In fact it became more intense and, for me, more fruitful.

Joe did a blog; fascinated, I did one too. Joe wrote poetry and I – lumbering in his wake – started writing verse. When I resumed novel writing he read and re-read my MS, made many important and informed suggestions virtually all of which I adopted. Soon it wasn’t enough merely to exchange emails we had to talk face to face; there was so much to say. We started having lunch together in London at an incredibly scruffy curry house. Joe regularly apologised about the long rail trip I had to make but a moment’s reflection would have told him I was making it because I wanted to. Needed to. Our conversations were dense, noisy, wide-ranging and – I think I can say – mutually profitable. And great fun.

All that is at an end. But it was a sort of Indian Summer which I had not expected and I have Joe to thank for that. I sometimes reflect on how others must have seen us as we gabbled like traders in the souk – Joe’s incredibly posh accent, mine an unpleasant melange of the West Riding, London and America. An odd couple, shabbily dressed, oblivious to our surroundings or so it seemed. Because Joe’s eye was always alert and what he saw cropped up time after time in his blog.

It’s perhaps significant that I don’t have a photo of Joe for this post. In my defence I have to say it wasn’t a relationship defined by photos. Just nattering. It taught me one thing – that conversation, at its best, beats booze, haute cuisine and pretty scenery. Those lunches and afternoons didn’t slide by, they passed in what seemed like a conflagration.

Cheers, Joe.
Friend and wordsmith extraordinaire.

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Oughties. Worth a damn? No. 9

The New Pilot Jet
(965 words)

Mabel hated the phone. Hated its shrill alarm, feared entering its void. Today there was no choice.

The stool, which eased her back when peeling vegetables, was transferred to the hall table. On a sheet of paper, in block capitals, she wrote the plumber’s landline and mobile numbers together with: Glow Worm Flexicom.

Ready?

Slowly she reached for the handset, lurking like a mole, remembering a time before arthritis when it had fitted her hand. Withdrew her hand and added the plumber’s name to her list.

The landline uttered an impatient, gruff recording. Mabel distrusted answerphones; they caught her out, forcing her to add phrases, laying bare her timidity. But the mobile’s silences were also difficult.

“Is that Mr McKenzie?”

Long pause. “Yah.”

“It’s Mrs Crisp. Parbold Close. You have -”

“Yah.”

“My boiler - ”

“Tried re-starting?”

“I don’t under -”

A deep sigh, intentionally audible. “Re-starting. Press coupla buttons. Simple. If that’s it I still charge full call-out.”

“I can pay.”

He would come at midday. Mabel, trembling slightly, felt disoriented on the stool in the hallway, close to the front door. The bungalow looked unfamiliar from this angle. A dust triangle on the carpet corner, beyond the vacuum cleaner. Had her husband, dead seven years, trembled after speaking to Mr McKenzie?

Cauliflower cheese to prepare but she sat on, sifting the meaning of re-starting. Her husband had understood. After his death Mr McKenzie had shown her. It was, as he had said, simple: press one button, twist the other clockwise and hold it there. That wasn’t the problem, she feared her own imagination. Flames and a flammable “thing” within her home; a wrecked house exposing a wall-papered bedroom to gaping neighbours; the television reporter implying “elderly residents” not up to it.

Sitting at the kitchen sink she cut green leaves from the cauliflower. Her mother had insisted they be eaten, that they were the most nutritious part. But the real reason had been economic, a thought that stabbed at her heart. Suppose something was dreadfully wrong with the boiler? That it needed replacing? Costing thousands. Would this be the final argument her daughter needed? Why spend money on the bungalow when, soon, they would all have to face up to…?

At least Mr McKenzie wasn’t young. When he’d first visited, twenty years ago, his blonde hair had reached his shoulders. Then he’d started to go bald and now he shaved what was left down to a layer of bristle. Quickly he established that re-starting wasn’t the answer; that the pilot jet needed replacing.

“I need to go to Plumb Centre,” he said. Heavily and abruptly he sat down on a kitchen chair in a way Mabel recognised. Mr McKenzie was tired.

“Can I brew you tea?” she asked, expecting him to say – as he had in the past – he hadn’t time for that. Now he nodded.

Spooning leaves into the teapot she realised he was watching. As she poured tea through the strainer into his cup he smiled. “My ma makes tea like that,” he said.

“My mother thought tea-bags were lazy. I didn’t often agree with her but for some reason I’ve never used them.”

As he sipped he inspected the kitchen. Observed, “You keep things neat here.”

“I need neatness the older I get.”

“The work’s not too much for you?” He sounded almost shy.

Mr McKenzie, shy? “It gets harder. But I keep going. Doing the work proves…” She didn’t finish but he appeared to understand. Then he was up and off in his van. Returning he held a small plastic bag that hardly seemed worth the effort. His face was alert; he had something on his mind.

“Mrs Crisp,” he said. He’d never used her name. “It’s rude, I know. Would you mind much telling me your age?”

It mattered to him. “I don’t mind. I’m eighty-one.”

As if she’d slapped his face! Completely unexpected! Quickly he turned away.

“Thanks very much,” he mumbled. “Just a thought.” Clumsily he crossed the kitchen to the utility room where the boiler was mounted. The jet was quickly installed. Inexplicably he charged her only for the standard call-out but didn’t explain.

The phone rang at four. A quick pang, then she recognised it was her daughter’s daily call. For once Mabel had something to say. “You use Mr McKenzie, don’t you? He was a little odd today.” She explained.

Her daughter laughed. “You know he lives quite near. A big house. Plumbers make money. But that hasn’t saved him from the gossip.”

“I hate gossip.”

“It explains his question. Six months ago his widowed mother broke her thigh. You know how bad thighs are. She didn’t respond too well and your Mr M and his brother-in-law – a solicitor – decided to put her into a residential home. It’s said they have powers of attorney, that they wanted to sell her house. Perhaps. But it was bad luck all round. The home proved dodgy, it’s since been closed. Mrs McKenzie caught an infection and, the long and short, she lost her leg. Carers costing a fortune now look after her at home and Mr McKenzie doesn’t chat as he used to.”

Mabel wished the stool was still in the hallway. “He’s not very likeable. But no one would wish him that burden. What age is his mother?”

Her daughter paused. “Sixty-seven.”

Now Mabel paused, long enough to worry her daughter: “Look mum. Mr McKenzie is not us. You do know - ”

“Mr McKenzie’s Mr McKenzie. I’m old but not stupid. It isn’t quite time yet but when it is I’ll be intelligent. I promise.”

“You know we love you,” her daughter said.

“Of course I do, my dear.”

Should I have said I loved her too? Mabel wondered. Does she expect that?

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Lost for words? He's no help

I knocked Primce Igor but it wasn't part of Borderlines; the transmission from New York just occurred at the same time and at the same venue. However the first truly duff Borderlines film screened yesterday. It failed strangely.

Her, starring Joaquin Phoenix, directed by Spike Jomze (who did Being John Malkovich which I liked), falls in love with the operating system of his mobile phone/computer. If you share a universal love/hate relationship with Windows 7 you may find this preposterous. Don't worry.

The software isn't an operating system but an artificial intelligence program capable of adapting itself to the intellectual and emotional needs of the user and interfaced with the voice of Scarlett Johansson. At first the trickiness is beguiling but before halfway the story just bores. Imagine a love affair via telephone with a supreme blue-stocking from Oxbridge.

Phoenix, the dullest man in the universe, is dismayed when he discovers that Scarlett - whose audio favours he thought to be his alone - is sharing herself simultaneously with 6381 dimwits. That's what computers do, dummy!

It wasn't boredom that got me down but outrage. I didn't actually count but Phoenix's vocabulary must be limited to 700 words. "How're you doing?" he asks. When Scarlett returns the favour he replies, “I’m good.” Asked to elaborate he says, “Real good.” An exchange repeated a dozen times but it feels like a million. Asked again by the patient Scarlett he perhaps adds, “I dunno. Difficult to put it into words.” And on, and on. I started predicting and I was way ahead of him.

Never has language been so poverty-stricken, so bare, so repetitive, so dull. I came away ashamed of my mother tongue. Don’t see it (Or, rather, hear it.) Please!

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Been off the radar, I fear

Tis the year of the quiet RR. Well, not quite the year, perhaps a fortnight, perhaps three weeks.

I'd been neglecting Second Hand, just adding in a hundred or a hundred-and-fifty words at a time: the equivalent of driving at 28 mph with the handbrake on. Dabbling and - worst of all - forgetting what I'd previously written. The cure was to download SH to the Kindle and read it as it brushed shoulders with the collected verses of WB Yeats, Anna Of The Five Towns and Our Man In Havana.

A bit like giving myself an enema. An intellectual invasion. The shoddiness leaped out and 58,000-plus words quickly lost a thousand words.

Seamlessly this act of cauterisation (See, I'm mixing my metaphors) eased into the beginning of our local film festival, Borderlines. I'd booked twenty-three movies over thirteen days: of which five days involved two movies and three days involved three movies. Plus travelling to remote places. We'll be seeing Philomena at Ledbury, Gloria at Ross-on-Wye and Le Week-End at (a geographical collector's item) Bosbury Parish Hall.

Already seen: Woody Allen's Blue Jasmine (tightly constructed; Cate Blanchett's Oscar well deserved), All is Lost (Robert Redford the sole actor, less than 100 words dialogue, techno-triumph), La Belle et La Bete (Cocteau's 1944 whimsy; imaginative; not my backyard), Jeune et Jolie ("Only the French could get away with this" - The Guardian), After Life (Japanese; superb; words fail me), Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa (Vallait le voyage - to Leominster)

The only duffer: Borodin’s opera Prince Igor from the New York Met. Gorgeous Russian singing but inanimate story, knee-jerk “advanced” direction. We left at first intermission. Luckily Borodin had a day job as a chemist