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.

Friday, 30 January 2015

pppp, and you're done

To Birmingham last night to hear the Academy of Ancient Music, a long established thirty-strong group who play on period instruments. The music wasn't all that ancient, 'twas all Mozart and he's mid-eighteenth century. Or, if you prefer, timeless.

It should have been good; perhaps it was. The conductor was Robert Levin, an academic who is also a nifty keyboardist. He played WAM's loveliest piano concerto, the twenty-fourth. conducting from the instrument not the podium. The programme said piano but it was the much smaller, much quieter fortepiano; it had to be; a modern Steinway would have drowned out the gut-string violins, the valveless trumpets and the wooden flutes. A Ferrari among Model T Fords.

Fortepianos sound OK on CDs, We've got Melvin Tan doing Beethoven's first and second piano concertos and I love his agility. In the concert hall it's another matter. So much went for nothing. And we were in the priciest seats, dead centre, eleven rows back.

Yeah, I know all the arguments. Less resonance, faster articulation, music as the composer would have heard it. But if you can't hear it... As Basil Fawlty said, it's so basic.

THIS seemingly eviscerated accordion consists of 68 tickets (Grandson Ian's coming too) for 23 movies at the Borderline Film Festival, starting February 27. The titles: La Maison de la Radio, Ida, Whiplash, Wild Tales, Still Life, Foxcatcher, Birdman, Cycling with Molière, Enemy, Inherent Vice, Winter Sleep, Most Wanted Man, Mr Turner. Lourdes, Clouds of Cils Maria, Amour Fou, Duke of Burgundy, Black Coal - Thin Ice. Boyhood, Ex Machina, Before I go to Sleep, Phoenix.

From France to UK to China to USA to Canada to Israel to Poland to Germany to Argentina to Turkey.

We'll let you know. 

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Humility anyone?

I’ve been reflecting on self-deception. A common fault but, to avoid offence, let me be the guilty party.

This morning it was raining hard and a strong wind scoured my cheek. Yet I could have said I was enjoying myself.

Getting wet? Because I didn't care, this made me superior (less vulnerable) to those who fear getting wet. As to rain pain I bore it, didn't complain, thus emerging as a stoic; sort of brave. By combining these reactions I might have admitted to exhilaration, a sub-set of enjoyment. Yet I was wet (no merit there) and feeling raw.

There are logical flaws here although unpicking them takes a few seconds. The fact is we do not always analyse what we say. Frequently we opt for shorthand: "The weather was foul but - do you know? - I enjoyed it." If challenged and if we’re honest, we detect self-deception.

This is a simple case but the defect can crop up in complex sequences of thoughts and feelings. We need to cut the guff and in doing so we cut corners. Under examination we may appear ridiculous, as part of a cliché - not the wordy sort but the behavioural cliché. Think of Cassius in Julius Caesar: "The torrent (of the River Tiber) roar'd, and we did buffet it with lusty sinews (and) with hearts of controversy." Was it really that much fun?

What medicine do I prescribe? None. Talk is vague and inexactness  a fact of life; who would be a pedant? Mostly it doesn't matter. To say that confession shrives the soul is surely a cliché. But it’s as well to know it lurks.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Just passing through


Can't say I've led an adventurous life.

Rock-climbing? Sounds exciting but I was the worst rock-climber I knew and never pushed the limits, never risked much.

Repairing radio gear in Singapore? All I can see are the restraints of communal life in the RAF - the need to co-exist with others, most of whom I'd have ignored as civilians.

Seeking work in the USA as a married man with one small child? The idea was adventurous but the planning was meticulous; things went very smoothly. And there was central heating.

Deciding to find out, very late in life, whether I could write? Hell, what else? Herbaceous borders?

Just once I tip-toed on to the edges of a new old world. In the West Virginian Panhandle the roads had grass in the middle, then became dirt tracks. We passed wooden hovels with forty-year-old car shells for garden ornaments. People watched speculatively from their stoops as if guessing what we'd taste like. Suppose we break down? VR asked. Then we were back on the expressway.

Adventure? Pretty dull really.

JOE'S NUDGE

Rookhope stands in a pleasant place,
If the false thieves wad let it be,
But away they steal our goods apace,
And ever an ill death may they dee!

It's almost a year now. I failed to listen to Joe's poetic voice for most of his life. Now when I’m faced with poetry I apply myself, unguided, often in confusion. The last line above is a curse which makes me smile. Would Joe approve? He was never vindictive. I have no way of knowing.  
 
Anon. 

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Generously knit, cruelly worn

The scarf was a gift, knitted to my instructions. It is multi-coloured and long, so long. It came from overseas and I revel in its plenitude.

I'd seen TV reporters wearing long scarves - notably my brother's namesake Nick Robinson, the BBC's political editor - and I wanted to outshine them all. Now I had the means but not, I discovered, the skill. A scarf as generous as this, product of a generous heart, needs to be learned.

Privately I experimented. I wrapped a loop round my neck and the ends trailed on the carpet. I wrapped three more loops and still the ends trailed. Besides which the telly journos use some kind of trick whereby their scarves fold back on themselves. I needed to think. I announced I would launch the scarf officially on the first day of Spring. Wimpish procrastination.

Recently we had our first hard frost. Few of my neighbours garage their cars and the windscreens were rimed. I thought of my Skoda, snug in its burrow. I needed to pick up the Guardian and a malicious thought occurred. As my neighbours scritched with their credit cards I would walk past, my neck encircled. I would also wear my new sleek-fitting black fleece to emphasise my loss of weight.

The Hell with the fold-back trick, I would be demonstrating thermal superiority. It is not enough to succeed, said Gore Vidal, it is necessary that others should fail. Aha!

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

It's just a jigsaw

Marriages, partnerships, mortgage sharing and other modern-day unions de convenance  profit from shared interests. But few shack up with identical clones. People differ: how does that work?

One major VR/RR rift concerns cucumbers. Even the smell drives me into hysteria whereas VR relishes them several times a week. Yet it’s under control, mainly because it’s up front: visible and olfactory. Allowing me to see myself as tolerant, a marital goodie-goodie. This claim may sicken others but cucumbers benefit me.

VR hates Western movies; I revere The Searchers. But VR can read through telly, sometimes sleep through it, as with international rugby matches. Obviously I would not watch The Unforgiven at peak viewing; the situation demands delicacy. VR's powerful abilities must not be over-stretched. It’s called an accommodation.

Like many women VR hates physical cruelty, real or simulated. I'm more immune. But VR can accept simulated cruelty, as in The Sopranos and The Wire, if the story has recognisable integrity. Bringing about that conversion involves nerve-shuddering nicety. Force on my part is instantly detected. Very much give and take.

VR favours public transportation, rhapsodises about trains. I'm not a petrolhead but suffer in buses and planes (insufficient kneeroom) and financially on the railways. Cars have disadvantages but offer qualified independence. VR no longer drives and I think recognises a balance here. VR's adulthood emerges.

Although just as atheistic as me, VR sets store by the decorative trappings of Christmas. Left to my own devices I wouldn't install a tree with lights outside the front door. Without applying moral force VR persuaded me to believe the tree looks well at night. And now it does. An excellent resolution: a concession in which all sense of resentment has faded.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Greater love hath no man


Quite casually, while commenting on a different matter, a fellow blogger  revealed elsewhere he had had a vasectomy. Not boasting or anything, an aside, if you like. Well if he can...

Why have I been so timid? After all, having one's vas deferens severed could be seen as the ultimate feminist gesture for a fella. But then with the v-op delicacy resides not so much in What? as in Why? I must be circumspect. Bet you thought that last word was going to end differently!

Let's get one thing straight. Tone Deaf pointed out the cataract op is a piece of cake. The v-op is not a piece of cake, more a piece of rock. One suffers: feminists take note. And if push came to shove you'd be hard pressed to explain the bruising. Lurid!

OK, OK. Childbirth’s worse.

Another thing. I'm reasonably stoic but the v-op found my tipping point. Up above was a huge light (I was all for it; wouldn't welcome a surgeon working in the dark) surrounded by mirrors. One mirror reflected - let's put this obscurely - the flash of the scalpel. An unpleasing view. They moved the light at my request.

Later, stitches were removed. The group of men - ludicrous in short dressing gowns – who’d shared the experience reassembled. We talked hollowly about forming a club. Later still, we were required to provide proof... hmmm, I see there are limits. Perhaps I was right to be timid. Or let's say English.

It all happened decades ago and I see a definite advantage. One RR is enough, no one I know of has clamoured for another. Go on, prove me wrong.

Note. This is a Works Well repeat, though more felicitous.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Handing over the baton

Lucy's far better informed than me about Charlie Hebdo and it would be futile my adding my two sous'-worth. Make sure you read her two-part comment to my post,  Just Passing By, a couple of days ago. Reflect as Lucy has done on the dangers of generalising, on using words like "government", "extremist" or even "cartoonist" and imagining they are in any sense definitive.

I started out exhilarated by people's opinions - a genuine forum. Now I'm exhausted. Blogging has its limitations. What's needed is balance (ie, eighteen-months' research followed by a thousand-page book. Assuming there's someone left to read it.)

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Bathroom and kitchen

Neither VR nor I do showers much, preferring baths instead. Is this to horrify our North American acquaintances? Partly, but mainly to read under relaxed circumstances. Hygiene is incidental. Our baths may endure a full hour

Most bathrooms have central lighting unsuitable for reading. With money to burn I had spotlights fitted; the angle was wrong because of cramped ceiling space over the head of the bath. Later, downlights but they shed light vertically. My baths became shorter. Occasionally I even contemplated the cocoanut-flavoured soap.

The answer has been to mount four LED units (a mere half a watt each) low down on the wall behind the bath, each pair in effect bracketing my head. Last night I went the full hour and finished Master And Commander. Tonight I may take my dinner up with me. Think of baths as mature education, think of showers as wasted opportunity.

RECENTLY I hypothesised with VR a need to make a beef curry without guidance. I would guess the steps involved and see how far I got.

"First I'd quickly sear the chunks of stewing beef."

She shook her head. "First you'd cut the chunks into smaller chunks."

Oh hell. But she allowed me to continue.

I can't remember what I suggested but it wasn't frying the spices as it should have been. I reflected.

Cooking is misunderstood. Following a recipe isn't cooking as such. Any fool prepared to suffer a few false starts can do that. Real cooking consists of learning a large number of sub-techniques and combining them to arrive at say a beef curry. A list of ingredients may help refine the end dish but that’s all. Anything else is culinary Meccano. Conclusion: I haven’t sufficient time available. Blogging must suffice

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Latest from Old Fartdom

Having done 34,000 miles the car was due a "big" service; also an MOT (roadworthiness certificate) renewal, being over three years old. This risked my medical appointment in Monmouth in the early afternoon. There was talk of a courtesy car, probably manual stick-shift.

For six years I have changed gear in micro-seconds via a special autobox (six speeds, twin-clutch) offering the option to switch to clutchless manual whenever I choose. By now bare stick-shift evokes an era when a car was less a conveyance and more a hobby with time devoted to topping up batteries, changing oil, boasting about overcoming technical shortcomings, and making do with poor consumption. Me? I just want a car to go, quickly, efficiently, capaciously and economically; I don't want a conversational gambit or a mechanical conundrum. Might I still be able to do stick-shift? Call me an old fart.

Another priority was passing time fruitfully. The dealer is in charmingly named Cinderford, surrounded by the hobgoblin-ridden Forest Of Dean, no diversions within walking distance. I packed sandwiches and my mini-laptop loaded with the last chapter of my current novel, Second Hand.

Now here's an irony. Recently, at home under tranquil conditions, I've struggled with Second Hand. Here, in the dealer’s waiting annexe close to reception, phone ringing, customers Welshly describing their car's symptoms, men in ties rushing in and out, I was fruitful. Rewrote five-hundred words, and tacked on a thousand new words, flirting dangerously with unforeseen fantasy. Perhaps it was the hobgoblins.

All servicing done without risking Monmouth or testing my stick-shift skills. Paid a monster bill - did so gladly since servicing is at 20,000-mile intervals - and drove away my old fart's car which felt deliciously taut. Did you know: most Ferraris are now sold with auto.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Just passing by

As to Charlie H I have done nothing here at Tone Deaf other than tack on a salutation  to my short story post. Then gone on to Eliot who doesn't quite fit into cartoons, etc, though he might well have said something about religious tolerance given that he wasn't entirely blameless himself in that line.

But I haven't exactly been idle. I've dropped comments here and there in other blogs where constructive dialogue had started. Conscious of my freedom to do so.

Reminding myself that such freedom doesn't sit well with extremists; after all if you're prepared to kill others to get across your point of view, you're not likely to stop short at censorship. And so merely by blogging we were exercising that right which the Charlie H crew paid for so grievously. There are countries where we wouldn't be allowed. Another slogan then:

Charlie Says Use It.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Anniversary nuggets, hand-picked

T. S. Eliot, dead fifty years ago, is said to be difficult. No doubt. There's no way I could reason out The Waste Land or Four Quartets  and I'm not tempted to try. But, as a non-poetic gent, I recognise passages that are unmistakable poetry. Ignoring April, the world's end, eating peaches, and the state of the camels here's my mini bouquet.


The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,
The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes
Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening.
Prufrock (The unexpected; read the bold repetition aloud)

I have seen them riding seaward on the waves
Combing the white hair of the waves blown back
When the wind blows the water white and black.
Prufrock (Hear the waves' ebb and flow)

You will see me any morning in the park
Reading the comics and the sporting page
Particularly I remark
An English countess goes upon the stage
A Greek was murdered at a Polish dance.
Another bank defaulter has confessed.
Portrait of a Lady (Banality becomes something else)

A broken spring in a factory yard,
Rust that clings to the form that the strength has left
Hard and curled and ready to snap.
Rhapsody on a Windy Night (Ah, the observation)

Now when she died there was silence in heaven
And silence at her end of the street.
Aunt Helen (Do you need any more?)

Those with a thousand small deliberations
Protract the profit of their chilled delirium
Excite the membrane, when the sense has cooled,
Gerontion (Look, he does hard words too)

Jackknifes upward at the knees
Then straightens out from heel to hip
Sweeney Erect (Seen many times, but not quite like this)

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Getting longer

 NOTE: Lucy reminds me that there are times when events  other than posting short stories, however elegant and inward-looking, take precedence. The front-page headline translates as "Love, stronger than hate."

Short story: Front of house
1866 words
(Rewritten July 5, 2015)

HALF a mile away from Roy’s and Costello instinctively started looking for parking, then laughed at himself. Months ago Roy had moved out of a black-and-white in the old town saying he needed more space. Costello had chided Roy, saying he’d lose elderly clients but Roy had pointed down to acres of marked-out tarmac. “Oldsters with legal problems all drive Jaguars.”

Even so Costello didn’t warm to the glazed tube which zoomed him up the side of the tower to the twelfth floor. Gave him the heebie-jeebies.  The lift’s floor was glass and he could see his Audi framed, as it were, between his Hotter casuals.

Back in the black-and-white you rang a brass bell to wheedle a fonctionnaire away from piles of black deed boxes. Here the grand curve of desk, backstopped by polstyrene lettering, lacked even a telephone. Very global but heck, Roy was in the end just a solicitor.

The receptionist glittered. “You are a teeny bit early, Mr Costello,” she said. “He has another client.”

“No problemo,” Costello said, mysteriously talking like the huge desk. “I’ve got an Ipad full of work.”

It was the receptionist’s job to make clients feel special in all sorts of ways. “I’ll let you know the minute…” she began, then ran her tongue quickly round her upper lip. Costello tried not to stare, tried not to approve or disapprove. That came later.

Roy was tie-less as if Costello had interrupted him dressing. Displaying a certain déja vu he listened to Costello’s latest tax-avoidance trick. “A large home conservatory; patients take their ease there before I see them in the consulting room. No sign of anything medical, much less surgical. Water colours of rural scenes and several copies of the current Country Life. Note that: more than one copy. They see the garden and there’s not a single kid’s toy. With oncology you’ve got to get patients into the mood. I’m looking for twenty-five thou in allowances.”

Roy smiled in his superior solicitorish way. “You may be looking for it but I recommend you don’t find it.”

Costello sighed. “Go on. Tell me why.”

“Simple. It isn’t worth it.”

“Now look here, Roy. Twenty-five thou may not mean much in this space-ship HQ. But I’m in theatre for fourteen hours at a stretch.”

“And you’re amply rewarded, Cos. What are you on? Close to half a mil? That’s more than I take home when I split between nine partners. Don’t be greedy; greed can take you to the abyss.”

“The abyss!”

Costello sighed again. Their conversation was costing him two hundred pounds but he saw it as spending money to save money.

Roy on the other hand saw large invoices as compensation for not showing he was bored. “Do I have to spell it out, Cos? You have a perfectly good consultancy room where you work, at the ironically named Ancient Free. Furnished in impractical light grey, as I recall.”

“But this will be different. No signs on the walls, no antiseptic smell. Cancer patients need calming, especially when they’re getting used to the bad news.”

“And Country Life will do that? Look I’ll admit I haven’t looked closely but this screams privilege. You’d be taking a big chance. You could risk tax provisions already agreed. Do you really want HMRC to get suspicious? Start taking a second hard look at that Zurich arrangement?”

Costello leant back, laughing. “Still the same old Roy. Now living like Andy Warhol but as cautious as ever.”

Roy smiled. “Because, in essence, the law hasn’t changed. This is a successful legal partnership but it needs to be up-to-date. You may hate the floor show at reception but it shows we’re past the millennium.”

Floor show! The earlier eroticism abruptly returned. “It’s more than interior design, isn’t it?” said Costello. “You’ve gone further than wall-paper. A different kind of employee for one thing.”

Roy recognised the allusion. “You’ve been exposed to Vicky? Was it a pleasant experience?”

“Equivocal.”

“I’ll settle for that. Do you know she did PPE at Magdalen? And, I might add, she’s paid accordingly.”

“It’s a new side to the law.”

“Not the law, Cos. A new view of commerce. The hell with Charles Dickens.”

COSTELLO thought about Vicky driving back to the old County Hospital for a token hour of NHS surgery. Reckoned she’d been pretty subtle, far from louche. Her breasts weren’t involved, her tongue had worked for no more than a second. But what sort of job interview had crafty Roy engineered? Was there anything there for a medical man?

Costello scrubbed up with his two male house surgeons. Neither was yet thirty; surely they’d understand. After all they still talked about girlfriends not garden centres. It wasn’t just solicitors who needed to look cool. He’d talk to them during a longer op.

Updating his records at the Ancient Free he deliberately left his office door open so he could listen to Gladys, making appointments, answering queries. Softly in her swan’s-down voice.  She’d come recommended: “A comfort to the patients, men and women.” But now he tended to specialise in prostate surgery and the gender ratio had changed. How did men regard Gladys? The grey bun at the back. The partly suppressed Brum accent. The derrière that spread out when she sat down. He doubted Gladys could make her tongue glide that way.

The more he thought the more serious he got. Playing soccer kick-about with his sons that evening he was even considering the nuances of a job advert. Not a hint of lip-licking, of course. It would have to be womanly sympathy. Tricky. There’d be dozens of applications; for reasons he’d never understood many women fancied comforting those in physical and mental despair. A great deal of sifting would be needed, without Gladys to help him. Whoops! What about unfair dismissal?

The next morning Costello spent just ten minutes at a job agency. The questions were shockingly intrusive and he had difficulty disguising what he was up to. He emerged quickly, embarrassed and very slightly ashamed.

Where might he find his Vicky? Buried in schemes as he passed into the County Hospital he almost bumped into Ellen, his wife. Last seen ten minutes before he went to bed the night before.

“Slumming, I see,” she said. “Twice in two days. The NHS is grateful.”

Their marriage had been a victim of temperament and ideology. Ellen not only worked exclusively in the NHS but in geriatrics – its most poorly funded sector. Sexual relations had withered after he’d taken the Ancient Free’s shilling and gone substantially private. For a decade he’d been a lost soul to her: a blocked drain, say, or a crossword puzzle. But, as usual, neither had time to talk.

“Don’t forget, you have the boys tonight,” Ellen called out over her shoulder.

LATER, in theatre, one of the house surgeons whispered, "It’s Yvonne's do later on." Costello hadn't forgotten. Yvonne was senior theatre nurse, as vital to him as his left hand, but he still hadn't bought her a present. “What can I get her?”

“Perfume.”

“I don’t know what she likes.”

“Spend enough money, and it won’t matter.”

The woman behind the glassy counter practised what she preached, her face a stiff beautiful mask, her eyes blackly staring. The bottles were faceted like jewels, her scarlet finger nails like diamond chips around giant amethysts.

Was this Vicky? Could this woman enhance him as a surgeon? Her inhuman looks suggested a high salary and yet she was after all only a shop assistant. How might he impress her, get her on his side? He pointed to the largest bottle and her eyes widened fractionally.

“A very special gift,” she whispered, “for a very special person.”

No mention of price. Only when he saw the total on the credit-card scanner did he realise. He glanced to see whether she was impressed but her face remained impassive. Possibly the maquillage prevented expression. The gift-wrapping took time and his bravado leaked away. When he thanked her her eyes, previously animate, were blank.

Out on the pavement he recognised a new problem. Because of its price the perfume was now a disproportionate gift. Yvonne might easily make the wrong conclusion. Oh hell.

OVER the next fortnight Costello searched out what he took to be feminine gathering places. Bars in large hotels, entrances to fashion boutiques, latterly - in despair - Waitrose. Women he saw, some lively, some magnificent, some both, but all eventually discouraging. The plausible approach eluded him and his mouth tended to dry up. Finally he conceded. Only one person had pulled off this successfully and Costello decided if it cost two hundred pounds then so be it.

He called randomly and wasn’t pleased to discover he’d picked what had to be Vicky’s break. Instead a fiftyish bald man in pin-stripe agreed immediately to his request for five-minutes with Roy “on a personal matter”. Amazing! Roy had always claimed he was so busy.

But something was wrong. Roy wasn’t facing out from his desk, he’d swung round to his left, rested his heels on the window-ledge and was looking – yearningly it seemed – at a building site dominated by a tower crane.

“You’ve come to gloat, of course,” said Roy.

Something deep inside his tripes kept Costello silent. Sitting down, he crossed his legs. Neutrally, he hoped.

Roy said, “There’ll be a Law Society hearing.”

Costello’s knowledge of the rules governing solicitors was vestigial. He played along. “A bit rough,” he said, tentatively.

“They’ll get me under one of those catch-alls they have in the armed services: conduct prejudicial. You know.”

“But what proof have they got?” It seemed the obvious question.

If Roy hadn’t been day-dreaming about catastrophe he would have realised Costello’s ignorance. But perhaps Roy wanted a confidante. “It was the partners, you see. They scared the living daylights out of Vicky. She swore at a client in reception. I’d have got her round that somehow but they made her confess everything.”

“Everything?”

Roy waved an irritated hand. “The terms under which I employed her. The secret terms.”

Light was beginning to break through. Costello said, “But you said she was intelligent. Magdalen and all that.”

“She’d been unable to find work for six months.” Roy writhed slightly in his seat, as well he might. “She was fairly easy to persuade.”

Costello said nothing.

Roy turned. “Hell, all I wanted was to put a bit of piss and vinegar into this medieval organisation.”

The phrase was new to Costello. He stared at Roy as if he’d never seen him before. Christ, how old he looks, he thought.

On the way down the lift capsule stopped between floors. The recording of a woman’s voice – it could have been Vicky’s – soothed him, told him it was a routine happening, pre-ordained to monitor the lift’s electronics. Costello looked down reluctantly, saw the Audi, wished he was at the wheel, driving away at an illegal speed.

The cylindrical walls reflected his image. Costello wondered whether he too looked old but the reflection was distorted, almost Cubist, it could have been anyone. Then, as he still concentrated, the lift resumed its descent.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

A show for adults


Forty-odd years after it appeared on Broadway and in the West End we caught up with Stephen Sondheim's musical Company. Two reasons: (1) in those Cro-Magnon times I wasn't terribly interested in musicals, (2) when I realised quite recently I could no longer ignore Sondheim I discovered most DVDs of his shows were Region 1 (USA) and wouldn't play on my Panasonic.

The latter techno problem I solved (see Keeping My Hand In). In so doing  I discovered a further reason for liking the guy. The DVDs are proof that Sondheim's stuff, unlike Evita, Les Mis' and Cats, are minority appeal. And you know what a snob I am.

The first few minutes were slightly strained. VR and I had to get used to American performers speaking and singing very clearly as if out of elocution class. A bit stiff. For two reasons: stage musicals demand this, Sondheim, more than most. He writes the lyrics and they're worth listening to.

But that oddity was quickly forgotten. Company centres on a gathering of married friends liking and worrying about 35-year-old Robert who claims to be "ready for marriage" yet remains stubbornly single. It has serious things to say about marriage yet says them wittily and often hilariously. It's a show for grown-ups.

To the point where VR turned to me afterwards and said - quite seriously - "You know we've been very lucky." She meant over the last 54 years and I agreed. Company encouraged us to reinforce that conclusion.

There are however, the songs. Clever words and neat integration, but none you’d go away humming. This didn’t worry me. They fitted the show at the time, and they entertained.

OK, you knew all this. Just so’s you also know: we are flexible.