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.

Monday, 20 November 2017

Alter Ego does a duet

Just got back from an intense singing lesson which...

Uh-huh, still on about that craze of his. Silly old fart. Should stick to flower-beds like any self-respecting, half-dead octogenarian.

... three months devoted to Schumann’s song Im Rhein...

Must be tone deaf, just like his blog. I know for a fact the song lasts only one minute, twenty seconds.

...but then it is a masterpiece...

How would he know?  Age fifteen he listened to Radio Luxembourg.

... the way the music fits the Heine poem...

Oh yes, anything German and he’s away. Did you know he can order a beer in German and that’s about it.

... the more detail, the subtler it ...

See how he pretends he can read a score. Sheer bollocks. Im Rhein’s marked Ziemlich langsam and I doubt he knows what that means.

... no reason why we should not spend another three months...

But does his teacher agree?

... V is very patient ...

Aye, she’d have to be. Listening to an eighty-two-year-old throat mangle a so-called masterpiece. She should be paid in euros, by the cartload.

... magic moment! The last four syllables – liebsten genau – exactly fit my natural voice.

But what about the other five-hundred syllables? Ear-plugs anyone?

... V says so ...

The alternative would be to say he needs putting down.

... private lessons, a better choice of music ...

Here’s the key. At his age he should have joined a choir, so he could hide his croakings. Mind you, a choir with very low standards.

PS. Still a thrill, after almost two years. Making a stab at Mozart in a resonant kitchen with this portable, ever-available instrument. Shockingly difficult of course but, then, that’s one of the attractions – an adult thing to take on.

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Short story verdict?

Blogspot techno-point. It was Lucy who restrained me from getting excited about pageview figures in Stats. Just a single mention of Hitler and totals may rise dramatically. But occasionally they offer a kind of truth.

At over 6000 words my short story, The Geographical Centre of the Buckeye State, is a long read and I didn't expect a great response. Splitting it into two parts (to meet Blogspot restrictions) was also likely to discourage readers. Pageview figures of 31 and 26 for parts 1 and 2 respectively are not huge but are mildly gratifying. Their numerical closeness suggests there  is a relationship (in readers' eyes) between the two parts, that those who read the first part went on to read the second.

And that only 5 readers failed to do so.

Gather ye crumbs where ye may.

Friday, 17 November 2017

I owe it to edewcayshun

Bad education can pay off.

I left school knowing nothing about Greek or any other kind of myths, Roman history, poems other than a dozen rumti-tum pieces found on calendars, politics in general, physics, chemistry, musical notation, literary analysis, mathematics beyond simultaneous equations, the formalities of cooking, economics, the way my body works, morality, the emotional nature of love, DIY, most plays other than force-fed Shakespeare, the necessity of mortgages, opera, ways of earning a living, the fact that I would age but not necessarily become adult, the foreignness of "abroad", healthy practices, astronomy, honesty, and any sense of my own potential.

I left school disadvantaged by adolescent lust, insatiable hunger, a thirst for alcohol, unfounded cynicism and unperceived selfishness.

Last night, sixty-six years after I left school, I discovered Ovid, the Roman poet who died in exile two thousand years ago and whose best stuff concerns such characters as Phaeton and Phoebus, Diana and Acteon, Narcissus and Echo. Remained silent through the explanatory hour and cried a bit when Niobe's fourteen children were killed by the capricious gods - for I too am a parent.

What were the odds, sixty-six years ago, that I might arrive at that period of absorbent silence? Lengthy, I'd say
.
A good education would have prepared me for Ovid. On the other hand my bad education left me as a tabula rasa, a blank slate waiting to be written on.

VR and I discussed which translation of Ovid to buy. Ted Hughes is presently the contender. 

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Post Nam 1

I lived in the USA from 1966 to 1972 and I'm ashamed to admit I didn't pay enough attention to the Vietnam War. A month ago a 10-part TV documentary, The Vietnam War, took me by the scruff of the neck. Comprehensive, revelatory, coherent, vivid, even-handed, intimate and large-scale, it re-created a state of mind: about a conflict that most wanted to ignore and forget. More especially how returning soldiers who'd given their all found themselves shockingly and unjustly tainted by the political ignorance and incompetence that kicked off the killing.

This story is nominally about that aftermath but the emphasis shifts somewhat in a way that won't surprise the tiny elite aware of my fictional preferences. In two parts because of BlogSpot restrictions.

Geographical Centre
of  the
Buckeye State

A short story (6392 words)

 A WHOLE morning to kill, shee-eet a whole day! A whole...

He stood on the street corner, taking his time, pretending there were choices. He could turn north up Factory on to West Main and stop off at Twist ‘n Shake. Or go right along Union to... where? Centre Pointe Church? And then what? No surprises either way. The only surprise had just happened. Except it wasn’t really a surprise at all.

Some time back there’d been possibilities. Anything could have happened. He’d beaten Nam.

The pair of them, Boone and him, sitting up to the bar at Amvet Post 59, drinking Wild Turkey with draft beer chasers. Outside it was getting dark and Khe San was starting to fade. Whoops! Keerrection! Khe San would never fade.

Not exactly a celebration then, more a revelation: “Hey we’re alive and ain’t that a kick in the head?” Wild Turkey said it all: twice the price, but what the hell.

Boone, sweat gathering on his top lip, turning. “Yuh leaving for Tennessee? The hick town with the crazy name, it never sticks in my mind.”

He’d grinned, it was always a steady joke. “Soddy Daisy, route 27, north of Chattanooga.”

Boone had sipped Turkey, nodded and leered. “Got yourself a Soddy Daisy waiting?”

As a matter of fact, he hadn’t. Sheryl-Lee and her roommate had taken a Greyhound to Anaheim, looking to be cocktail waitresses, graduating to pole dancing. Sheryl-Lee had the legs at least, he couldn’t complain. He said, “Nope. No one’s waiting.”

“Why not try here?”

“Here? What’s Centerburg got that’s hot?”

“Man, it’s the geo-geographical centre of the Buckeye State.” Boone stumbled over the words, the Wild Turkey getting to him.

“Buckeye?”

“Ohio, you prick.”

He said, “Coming in I saw the sign, side of the road. Population: two thousand and change. Place is just a village.”

“CPAs can always get work. Anywhere.”

He sighed. “Told you a hunnert times, I’m no CPA. Ain’t got the brains, never made tenth grade. Just a book-keeper, cash in, cash out.”

“Got the brains for a PFC,” said Boone surlily. Always a sore point; Boone had stayed a grunt the whole tour, left Nam with nothing more than a hash mark.

“The Army’s not like real life. Eat the chow, kill Charlie, use a rubber, avoid STDs. Promotion’s bound to come round.”

He’d slept the night at Boone’s Dad’s. No bed, just blankets thrown down on the rug. It was plain Pa didn’t want him around, didn’t want Boone around either.  Got himself a lady-friend who was more picky than Boone’s Mom, dead two years, worrying about her son at war. In the morning, over corn-flakes and nothing more, Boone’s Pa said, “A widow woman out on North Clayton has a room” - speaking impersonally, avoiding eye contact. “She’ll be glad, good and glad. Son Gary was a Marine, got his in the Mekong Delta. Friendly fire. Left her kinda weird.”

Turned out to be a nice place on a big lot, a new Jeep in the garage. Nor was the widow woman weird, just sorrowful. Mrs Golinski led him to the kitchen, took his hands over the table. He’d expected this would worry him but it didn’t. She said, “It’s Dill, isn’t it? Dill. I’m forgetful these days. And no kind of company, I don’t socialise much. It makes sense you using Gary’s room provided it doesn’t spook you. You and he would’ve...”

“Doesn’t spook me,” he said, speaking quickly to keep back her tears.

“I suppose you’ve seen worse”

“I’ve seen worse, ma’am.”

They sat in silence and it really wasn’t so bad. Made him realise he liked quiet.

“You got kin, Dill?”

His body jerked, blindsided. He searched for words that didn’t mean much. “Ma’am, it’s kinda difficult...”

She took his hand and pressed it to her cheek. “Prob’ly to do with this shitty war. And there I go. I don’t swear, Dill, I promise. But it’s the only word when you think. What are we killing people for? Why are we getting killed?” A week later he told her about his Pa and poor bullied Ma. Raising the flag at dawn, the stupid bumper stickers, his Pa’s uniform pressed and ready to wear at any time, the spit that flew when Pa talked about college kids, angrily switching off the TV. By then Boone had fallen out with his Pa and had moved to Toledo to stay with an uncle. The main thing keeping Dill in Centerburg was the quiet in Mrs Golinski’s home.

Gently he slid his hand away and asked if there was a diner anywhere close. She stared, shocked, as if he’d stabbed her. “You’ve done what the US asked you to do and now you’re hungry! For Chrissake, Dill!” She kissed him on the temple, a soft kiss as if she were his Oma. Said, “I’m swearing again. Perhaps Vietnam is what I saved my swearing for.” She hadn’t the makings for the breakfast she planned and needed to drive to the superette. When the meal was ready it was as if she’d laid out a pagan festival: a dozen fried eggs, a mound of hash-browns, a pound of bacon. Mrs Golinski ate one slice of toast and simply watched Dill. Got up suddenly and returned with an armful of his shirts and underclothes. Muttered, “Might as well start on these.”

Dill paused from slicing his sixth egg. There’d been no formal agreement he was staying but her searching through his kit-bag seemed to say he was. Back from loading the washing machine she sat down and kept on watching him eat, kindly, approving. Finally he’d finished half of what was on the table. Put his fork down, looked up to thank her and burped involuntarily – open-mouthed and loud. Looked away, embarrassed. “Ma’am, ahh, ma’am.”

“A good sign, Dill. You’ve eaten most of it. It was good to see. I eat hardly anything.”

“Gotta let me wash up, at least.”

She waved a hand. “I’ll do that. Makes me feel useful. Bring your coffee to the parlour.”

The furniture was neat, too neat, unused. She noticed him looking round. “Here’s a room I could sell off. Can’t find much use for it these days.” She stretched her legs out. “Chairs are comfortable, though.”

Now she stared at her feet. “Have I scared you?” she asked.

“Scared?”

“A bit too much emotion?”

“Why would that scare me?”

She leant forward. “Holding you, kissing you.”

“Ma’am, it’s happened before. It wasn’t me you were holding, it was Gary. I’ve been on home-visit details. Bringing bad news to the burbs. I learnt a lot.”

“Tell me.”

He put his empty coffee mug on the side table. “Scared, I know about that. Out there in the boondocks we’re all scared. Then the chopper comes and the fear goes away, until the next time.” He laughed lightly to himself. “Of course it could have happened, I could’ve stopped one. One good thing: it’s an end to being scared.”

She was looking at him, through him almost. He said, “But with those folks we visited, that we spoke to, it doesn’t go away. Guess you’re entitled to a little emotion. More than that.”

Nam had dulled him, he realised that now. He wasn’t used to women and three days R&R in Tokyo didn’t count. The women he’d talked to had been mothers, not real women. Sure Mrs Golinski was a mother but different. The emotion had been very strong and aimed at him. She’d done things for him, motherly things. But you could also see those things as favours.

Touching and kissing were sex. Women were sex. But not Mrs Golinski, a mother and therefore old. She saw him as Gary her son – an old relationship - and that couldn’t be sex.

He found himself wanting to look at Mrs Golinski, to study her. But couldn’t. Which was stupid because he had already seen her; heck, he’d been in the house for two hours. Looked, yes. But not studied. And now he daren’t.

“Dill, are you OK?” Her voice was gentle.

“Just thinking. What it’s like to be a mother? To have two smart military guys knock on your door?”

Saying this allowed him to look her in the face. First thing, she wasn’t old. A face saddened with grief, hair pulled back in a careless ponytail, no make-up, but nothing like his Mom with skin starting to melt.

She nodded. “The guys who knocked on my door were Gary’s age. Your age. You see I had Gary young. Silly, we liked the same kinda music.”

Then she straightened. “But let’s talk about you. You staying here?”

“Well, Mrs Golinski, I need work.”

“I’ve been calling you Dill. Time you called me Amy. First thing: don’t pay me til you’ve got work. But what kind of work?”

Amy questioned him for almost twenty minutes. Knew about book-keepers, probably knew too it was a pissy sort of job, saying he’d probably end up helping  out. She used words people kept to hand when looking for work: employment, time-keeping, experience. Soon he found it difficult to concentrate and it was Amy who broke off talking.

“Dill, you’re bushed. You get much sleep last night?”

“Not much.” He didn’t want to mention lying on the rug; reckoned it’d sound like begging for sympathy.

“Poor kid. Look, take a nap. Clothes off you’ll sleep better. I’ll give you a call early evening. The shower’s across the hallway.”

There was stuff in the room – Gary’s stuff -  he wanted to look at. A lacrosse stick and helmet, stacks of vinyls, photo of a teenage girl with long blonde hair in a cheap frame. Marine combat boots in one corner. And a shelf of books, hardbacks with long titles. Stuff that would tell him more about where he was but sleep dragged him down. He woke briefly and heard a distant murmuring voice, couldn’t tell whether it was male or female but wanted very much to know. Fell asleep again and there was Amy calling his name.

He showered and shaved in the room across the hallway; found himself looking in the mirror. Twenty-three but you wouldn’t know. He wasn’t good about ages but if he had to say he’d say older. Something about the eyes, check that, the eyebrows, always arched. Surprise? Or something worse?

Amy had been wearing jeans and a sweat-shirt. Now she’d combed out her ponytail and put on a dress with flowers. Even high heels. Saw him glance then glance away. “Don’t worry, you’re safe from me. I’m all done with emotion. You hungry?”

The huge breakfast was still with him and he shook his head.

“We could take a drive but it’s getting dark. Not much to see. Later I’ll fix the insurance so you can use the Jeep. We can watch TV but how about music? They say the war’s been great for music, gotta be good for something.”

“You got bluegrass?”

“Sure, I got some of that.”

He had the feeling she had something to say and encouraged her: “Play music, sure... and talk. About Gary if you like. If it’s not too sore.”

“Yeah, I wondered. But maybe it is too soon. See, what you’d be telling me is the truth. I might not be ready for that.”

She put on Pickin’on New Grass which was new to him and she explained it was a Baltimore group. That meant nothing but it was obvious music was just background, she was itching to talk. How do you order someone to talk? He lay back in the chair, the shot of bourbon she’d poured for him untouched. “Oh I dunno. Tell me about your working day. Anything normal, just so it doesn’t end up sounding like an AH-1.”

“That being a helicopter,” she said, smiling. “As to a normal working day I’m not your gal. Mostly I work coupla days a week, even half-days. Stepping in when a PA or senior secretary goes sick or takes a vacation. Work that needs a good phone manner and the skill to lie sweetly and quickly.”

“Sounds good.”

“Too restful. Leaves me wandering an empty house, knowing it’s never going to be full again.”

“Gee, yes. Sorry about that, Amy. Not just Gary but...”

“... Jerry too. All of which adds up to my crazy work schedule. Of course I could do forty hours a week like most people, sharing an office. But it’s not something I have to do so I don’t do it. None of which must make any sense, Dill. Let me straighten things out.

“I was in junior year, MBA Business, at State when I met Jerry. Ten years older but pretty damn sexy. Visiting lecturer in applied electrical engineering, divisional head with Turner Construction, money to throw around. I still can’t decide whether it was his grey sideburns, the Pagani or the hotel suite in Las Vegas that did for me; whatever, two pink lines on the marker said I was pregnant. I was an easygoing little hussy in those days, not into the blame game. I let him know that if he gave me half a grand I’d do the necessary.

“Surprise of my life. In a quiet way - which still makes me shiver after all these years – he tells me he’s Catholic and there’s another better answer. Still the independent hussy I said he hardly knew me. It was a shared mistake and it didn’t tie him to me. What’s wrong with tying myself to you? he asked. I pointed out I was hardly out of diapers. Who knew how I’d turn out; it wasn’t a risk he had to take. He said, suppose I see things differently? Just suppose, he said - speaking so quietly I had to lean over our cocktails to hear him – what I’d just told him, the crap thing I was willing to do for him, were the only references he needed. As he spoke he took a table napkin, tied it into a loop, slipped it over my finger and said, ‘Amy, it’s a bigger risk for you than me. I’ve screwed around a lot. Marry me and I’ll do my damndest to reduce the risk to evens’.”

Dill listened, not stirring. Remembered the bourbon and took a sip. “Nice way of putting it.”

“Good enough for me. Looking back at that moment I always supposed I fell in love. But who knows what that means? Jerry and I had two good years. Then the President of these United States – God rot his soul – asked Jerry to form a team of engineers to investigate corruption in an aid project in Colombia. A goddamn honour they said at the time. But the guys with the guns thought differently. I knew Jerry was carrying a lot of insurance, guaranteed  by the government, but I’d misread the zeros, there was an extra one. And I’ve been funny about regular work since.

“Then there was Gary.”

Driven by a vague feeling that it might help Dill allowed silence to spread through the under-used room. Part-used, perhaps, like a funeral home. He said, “Are you sure having me round helps?”

Amy nodded. “Reminding me of Gary. I’ve thought about that. But there’s nothing I can do for him. You I can.”

She engaged his eyes, challenging him. “In fact I worked on that while you slept. I guess I should have asked.”

If it was an apology it was well disguised. But what the hell. He said, “Before Nam I only had the one job. And my Pa helped me get that. I’m not exactly loaded with talent and I reckon I can use all the help I can get.”

Amy said, “I’ve PA’d for a dozen or so company owners in and around Centerburg. They trust me. The free sheet shows they’re hiring but none’s looking for a book-keeper. But that doesn’t mean they couldn’t use one. The outfit I favour is Buckeye Wrecking.” She smiled. “We’re not talking General Motors here but Buckeye’s more sophisticated than it sounds. They strip cars down to the bare bones, separate the valuable stuff, grade it, and sell it on in packages. At a normal wrecker labour costs would be fighting profit margins, but Buckeye has invested. Special equipment tears down a car in minutes; more gizmos do the separation, same speed. They get through thirty, perhaps, forty cars a day. And that’s where a book-keeper comes in, keeping track of the material, some in ounces, some much heavier.”

“With material weight converted into dollars and cents.”

“You get the idea. Hey, I’m talking too much. I need a drink.”

Dill got up quickly. “Stay where you are. A Manhattan hit the spot?”

“I’m pretty certain it would.”

Drink loosened up things. “Buckeye’s owned by Dan Krajik, ex-Omaha Beach. His ad says: Fork truck and general handling. Dare say you’ve never driven a fork truck.”

“I dare say you’d be right.”

“There’s a training centre north of Columbus, this side. A week’s course is all you’ll need; you won’t be operating in tight aisles or high racking. I’ve called Dan. He’s keen because he thinks GIs coming home are getting a raw deal. People who hate the war take it out on the victims, and they include you. He’ll hold the job and ease you in when you start. Best of all, he wants to fit in the book-keeping.”

“This training course...”

Amy waved dismissively. “I’m paying. Got some ideas beyond you driving a fork truck, but we’ll talk about that later.”

In a sense it was like being back in the Army. Someone else making the decisions, saying go there, do this. But then he hadn’t exactly loved the idea of looking for work on his own.

Driving the truck at the training centre was piss-easy except the instructor shouted a lot. Let Dill know he’d been a sergeant, AirCav. Just so Dill would know. That night Dill woke up sweating, a pocka-pocka sound in his ears. Could have been Khe San, he wasn’t sure. What he remembered was the body-bags went first because they needed someone to load them. A lot of body-bags.
 
Krajik was pro-Army and on Dill’s first day they swapped stories over coffee for an hour before Dill went out to the paved area at the back of the shop and used the fork truck to load scrap metal sheet, compressed, strapped and palletised, on to the company’s five-tonner. Then took a little instruction on strapping it to the five-tonner’s deck for safe delivery. Back at North Clayton that evening Amy had meat-loaf and greens waiting for him.

“You could say I’m now a civilian,” he said, drinking Hoppin’ Frog  beer from a glass when the table layout told him there’d be no more gulping from the bottleneck. Two nights later, pocka-pocka sounded again. I can get through this, he told himself.

Post Nam 2

Geographical centre of the Buckeye State. Part two.

SO HE WENT north to West Main. Dragging his feet past the law firm, Cooper, Adel, which had him thinking about that other world, an adult world closed to him. Who knew the law? All those books and serious talk. Of course he’d seen law on TV, heard “Will the witness raise his right hand...” but he was pretty sure that wasn’t how it was. On TV cops and law-men were the same, out to get the bad guys who sat in court and smirked at the judge. And the judge wore a black gown, which was odd. Once his Pa had needed to move house and he’d gone downtown and signed papers. Wasn’t that a law firm? Wasn’t that what real law-men did?

Past the point where West Main became East Main and past the two gas stations, Shell this side, Marathon on the other. He’d filled up at both during the early weeks with Buckeye Wrecking when Amy had insisted he used the Jeep to get to work. Such a short trip that later he’d walked. So why had Amy insisted he take the Jeep? Perhaps because it made him seem like a solid citizen, new car and all. Amy was good at figuring out things like that.

Now East Main had become Columbus Road leading to the pharmacy. He’d picked up a prescription there for Amy when she was away – the only time ever - visiting her older sister in Akron. Why would Amy need drugs? The plastic bag was sealed, would he have looked otherwise? Perhaps.

Walking any more didn’t make sense. He needed to think. Maybe.

Time to cross over to the park. Sit on a bench like an oldster and dwell on the future which wasn’t bright. Experimentally he closed his eyes and the pocka-pocka started up. Kept them closed and it got louder. Worse was the tension across his head, temple to temple, as if something would burst. He opened his eyes and for a time his sight was blurred as the sounds died away. Slowly his view of the park cleared and what he saw was ordinary. Finally depressing. Grass that said nothing.

They said you should forget failure. Push it to one side. For Dill it was all he’d got. Failure reminded him of a patrol scout he knew; whenever they took five he’d get out his Zippo and sort of roll it in and out of his fingers. Juggling it in a small way. Constant movement as if he couldn’t bear to be still. And now Dill juggled failure, cherishing it, feeling it, keeping it moving in his mind.

Dan Krajik had understood, at first. An unloaded  five-tonner, an accounts book with no entries, you had to be sympathetic. War affects young kids. Shit some needed counselling. They’d have laughed at that in Normandy after Omaha, but heck, we’d come a long way since. These kids had gone through hell and killing Gooks wasn’t like killing Nazis. Back then there hadn’t been TV cameras and reporters asking questions.

There were times Dill could manage the work and he saw the relief on Dan Krajik’s face, knowing he hadn’t been made a fool of. Loading the truck and making deliveries was no great sweat, though some afternoons Dill drove as if he were in a panicky dream, away from Buckeye Wrecking as if from a firefight. Sometimes he’d pull over and wonder at solid buildings made to last, homes with tiled roofs not palm fronds.

Funnily it was the book-keeping that was difficult. He’d stare at the blank page and try and remember. Finally, apologetically, go over to Dan to help him with the details.

After a month Dan had phoned Amy and suggested Dill take a short vacation: “Get his mind straightened out.” Amy had him paint the garage and Dill had done a good job; three coats in less than a week. Plus fixing a window frame. Relaxing work but he knew Amy wanted him doing more than odd job work. And the first step would be mastering book-keeping. Three weeks ago he’d gone back to Buckeye and the lapses had started all over. This morning he and Dan had had a little talk with Dan all fake-fatherly. “Son, I reckon you’re some doctor’s problem not mine. Breaks my heart but you gotta go.”

In his back trouser-pocket was a cheque which he hadn’t looked at. Probably a goodly sum, written out by Dan with Omaha Beach in mind. Dill sat surrounded by the grassy park, flat and anonymous. Not a bit like Nam. Again he closed his eyes and heard the insistent noise. Strange really, choppers had been the sound of rescue, now they seemed like a warning. Time to walk back to North Clayton and tell Amy the bad news.

That wasn’t going to be easy. She’d looked after him and more, even touching on the future. Not easy. For some time his legs refused to stiffen, allowing him to get up from his park bench. And even when they did and he was back on East Main his legs didn’t seem to want make a right on to North Clayton, forcing him left instead down Cherry Alley and a small back-street which he’d noticed before.

Fritz’s Guns said the sign, Friendly Service it promised. Old Glory in heavy lustrous material and fringed in gilt hung from an angled pole to the left of the door.

In Memphis, where he’d passed his teens, Dill had been the odd one. Everyone else had been crazy about guns, droning on about muzzle velocity, POI and snake bite. Even now Dill had no idea what a collimator sight was. Funny thing, in the military where guns were supposed to be a big deal, the good ol’ boy recruits stopped slavering about them. Grumbled about the weight of the M16 out on patrol.

For Dill the M16 was something you carried, like your dog tags or your canteen. Sometimes you loosed off a clip, more rarely you hit something that mattered. Nothing to get worked up about.

Gun shops were something  else, almost like churches, no, check that, like whorehouses. Men with wonder in their voices, doing a lot of feeling. But then Dill had never visited a whorehouse.

Was Fritz, of Fritz’s Guns, a real person or something to do with the Nazis? Politics often went with guns. Despite himself Dill found he was edging towards the shop’s display window. Behind the reinforced glass was a card reading Gun of the Week. Surely that was pure BS. Fifty different guns a year? Bee-ess!

The gun itself was a black rifle with tele-sight and suppressor. Priced “to go” at $250. It didn’t look like a gun you’d take off into the woods, the blackness made it seem towny. The tele-sight and suppressor said even more: waiting patiently, staring through the eyepiece, knowing where and when. Not a gun for a bar brawl. Why am I here? he asked. When he went in through the door a recording played Davy Crockett.

It was still mid-morning and the place was empty. Fritz, if it was he, was fat, wore a khaki tee-shirt with some kind of badge, head shaven but not recently, some bristle. Keen to talk, very keen.

“The tan says Vietnam. The build says Marine,” said the fat man extending his hand.

“Infantry. Marines are usually stockier,” said Dill, trying to disguise his reluctance to shake hands.

“Looking for something better than an M16? How about a Kalashnikov or is that kinda spitting on the flag? Seen our Gun of the Week? Good bangs for your buck. But, hey, am I putting you down? Could be you carried a side arm.”

Rank flattery, both ways. No one had ever imagined Dill to be an officer. “Nothing more than a PFC. Name’s Dill.”

“Waddya need, Dill? Could do you a US Kalashnikov, selling over the counter at $940. Special deal for a Nam vet: $900 plus a hunnert rounds.”

Why was he here? Failure had guided him. What were his needs? To overcome failure.

“I guess... I’d like to heft the K. I tried one of Charlie’s in Nam; a clip on the range. Like to see how the US gun compares.” What he needed was time.

The store was still empty and the fat man could afford to indulge him. “Nothing’s too good for a vet.” And unlocked one of the displays.

For a couple of minutes Dill fooled around with the K, as if it mattered. Handed it back, saying something the fat man would like to hear. “Definitely a slicker item than Charlie’s. But I’m here for a hand gun.” He paused to suggest this was a considered view. “Gotta be a Glock, I guess.”

“Smart choice, Dill,” said the fat man. “I got a wide range. Name’s Fritz, by the way.”

“Like the store.”

“Just like the store. How we’re going to start? Price or power?”

Again Dill looked for an answer that would please. “Power, of course, Fritz.”

Half a dozen Glocks were laid out on a table covered in green baize. Fritz said, “There’s another 27 models if you’re really picky. The 35’s close to top of the range. Big with the cops... law enforcement.” Dill nodded; “cops” was less dignified and this was a dignified emporium.

Fritz did the business clicking and clacking, handing over the guns. Dill knew enough to point the guns away from Fritz. This was the first time ever he had held a hand gun and it struck him the Glock had nothing that looked like decoration. Its simplicity made its desirable which was surprising. He’d thought he was proof against that. Was this how these things started?

Self-consciously Dill widened his stance. Held the gun in one hand then two. Put it in his trouser pocket then went to grab it, got it tangled with the pocket lining. Blushed. Vets didn’t blush.

Fritz had kept Dill under observation, reckoned it was now time he could go romantic. “Customers say this about Glocks: you feel safe, feel ready.”

Dill felt sweat at the side of his nose. What am I doing? What do I want from this? Why might this help?

Fritz lolled against the table. “You feel ready, Dill?”

Time passed.

Now Dill found himself hurrying away from the shop with Fritz staring after him from the open door, puzzled but mainly angry. “You sure you were in Nam? Shit, no wonder we can’t beat those skinny little guys.” Fritz tried to slam the door but couldn’t beat the pneumatic closer which uttered a dying sigh.

Dill walked up North Clayton, his heart beating. Found the side door was open and went in. The hard-back books that had once been in Gary’s room were piled on the kitchen table, yellow markers sticking out of the pages. Everything was tidy. Amy was in the parlour, sitting in the chair she had said was comfortable; she didn’t seem comfortable now. Glanced up at him remotely. Dill waited.

Her voice was hardly audible. “Dan Krajik called hours ago. You’ve been gone a long time.”

“Sat in the park.”

“Thought you might. Except I didn’t see you.”

“Walked the streets.”

“Which streets?”

He shrugged.

Amy said, “I drove all the streets between here and Buckeye. You went somewhere.”

He sat down heavily. “I don’t exactly know.”

They’d lived in the same house for two months. Got to know each other. Somehow she knew he wasn’t lying. “Somewhere different?”

He nodded. “But I don’t know why.”

“Perhaps I know why.”

He sobbed and she let him sob. Finally he said in a choked voice, “Fritz’s Guns.”

“Looking to buy?”

“I think so.”

He sensed her inspecting the pockets of his waterproof jacket. She said, “But didn’t?”

He nodded. She said, “Come in the kitchen, I’ll fix you something.”

“I’ll stay here.”

“No you won’t.”

He sat at the kitchen table as she searched through the cupboard. “Cream of tomato soup? That bland enough?”

As she worked the can opener he looked around, picked up one of the books. Leafed through and stopped at a marked page: Chapter Seven. Human resources: Asset or Liability? Amy had reckoned it too basic but he’d interrupted, said it was new to him. Even after she explained he rated it a big fat zero.

Amy watched him spoon up the soup and he knew she was trying to analyse what was in his mind. Another thing she was good at, but not this time.

“You ever think of seeing your family?”

It was the worst thing she could have said: no time to close his eyes. He imagined his Pa in fatigues, waiting on the stoop to pick a fight.

“At Fritz’s, why didn’t you buy?” asked Amy.

“Maybe you should ask why I wanted to buy.”

“That I know.”

“Yeah?” he asked, surprised.

“The US is full of guys solving problems with guns.”

So there’d been nothing special about this morning. Soup finished, he slumped in the chair. Bowed his head.

“Tell me,” she said, quite gentle now.

He spread his hands. “There’s no hassle buying a Glock 35, I knew that. It seemed too easy, I’d’ a wished it was tougher. Wished there were questions. Dan had given me a cheque as severance, Fritz woulda cashed it. Shit, he’d almost got the gun gift-wrapped. Started filling in the sales slip and that’s when I knew it wouldn’t happen.”

“Sales slip?”

Dill looked away. “Sales slip needs an address.”

“But you’ve got an address, right here.”

Now he looked at her, hangdog. “Yeah.”

It took her a while. “You didn’t want me...involved?”

“Didn’t seem right.”

“So the sale didn’t happen. We’re AOK.”

“Fact is, I wanted that Glock. At least I think I did. My mind isn’t too clear these days.” He told her about pocka-pocka, then pointed to the books on the table. “Look what you’re doing for me; trying to give me a future. I can’t take the risk, you don’t deserve it.”

“So you’ll be moving on?”

He tried to smile. “First time a place felt like home. More reason it shouldn’t get wrecked.”

“Give me another couple of days. I’d like to work out some ideas that may help you get work. There’s no real hurry.”

“Sure."

She reached out with her hands, her face relaxed. “I’ve liked you being here. It’s given me purpose. Let’s not be gloomy. Let’s eat out fancy tonight.”

A meal with all the trimmings; wine in an ice-bucket; fish done some way he didn’t recognise. She talked about the fun she’d had with Jerry, convinced he’d loved her. “But then,” she said laughing, “there was hardly time for him to lose interest.” When they got back there were shots of cognac, lighter and smoother than bourbon.

He got into the wide bed he’d be sorry to leave, pleased she was making things easy for him. Knew they would get harder over the next twenty-four hours. But fell asleep anyway.

Woke up in moonlight. Saw her sitting at the end of the bed in her nightgown. She spoke softly. “It’s OK, it’s nothing pathetic.”

He reached for the bed-side light but she intercepted his hand. “We don’t need the light. There is another option. Not the worst thing in the world. What worries you – that bad thing -  isn’t guaranteed, you know. It might happen, it might not. But if it did happen...” She paused and squeezed his hand. “... well, it would be quick, wouldn’t it?” He heard the smallest of laughs. “You could at least guarantee that.”

It was if she were speaking to him from a different world. A world of unbelievable softness. A cloud passed over the moon and when he looked round she’d gone. He closed his eyes and the pocka-pocka was still there but different. Familiar, not a threat. Like the sound of his breathing.

Next morning he smelled breakfast and went straight to the kitchen in his undershirt and pants. She turned, said gaily, “Suppose the mailman sees us? But then he thinks I’m weird anyway. Sleep well?”

Boone’s Pa had said she was weird. Some kind of weirdness! He said, “Would you have expected that? Me sleeping well?”

“That depends.”

“On what?”

“Dill, I’ve never been sure you do a whole lot of thinking. You can, you’re intelligent enough. But mostly you spend time in the present. Probably because of Vietnam.”

“I did some thinking last night. Didn’t sleep.”

Amy sat opposite him, cradling her coffee mug in both hands. “Good.”

“What you said – about it happening – wasn’t the whole story.”

“Indeedy, it wasn’t.”

“You’re gone and I’m in jail for life. One big nothing. Of course I could use the gun - ”

She spoke quickly. “But I figured you’d never do that. It wouldn’t make sense. Not now the war’s behind you.”

“So, just one big nothing?”

“Perhaps. If it happens it happens. No blame from me.” She smiled reflectively. “You’ll remember I didn’t blame Jerry.”

“Shee-eet.”

“I’m betting it won’t happen.”

“You can’t be sure.”

“It’s not betting if it’s a certainty,” she said, smiling.

That stopped him. “I guess not. I must be less certain than you are.”

“Here’s how I see it. You didn’t buy the Glock even though you were tempted. That puzzles you but it seems obvious to me. In the end, you’ll work out your reasons. By then they won’t matter. Then you’ll be ready to move on.”

The scrambled eggs were cooling. He pushed a forkful into his mouth, spoke with a muffled voice. “But why? OK it’s a small risk, but still a risk. And if it does go belly up.... I mean, why?”

“Dill, I’m a mother.”

He was silent. “It’s to do with Gary.”

She was about to reach for his hand then changed her mind. Smiled instead. A beautiful smile, and so near. “Mothers should never hear of their son’s death. It’s unnatural. I mourned, of course. Worse than that was feeling helpless. And mothers are used to helping, it goes with the job.”

Dill tried to remember his Mom when he was just a kid. Before his Pa became kinda insane. Did his Mom help? He couldn’t say.

“When Gary... got killed, it wasn’t your fault. No way.”

“Motherhood isn’t exactly rational, Dill. I wasn’t there to help, however silly that sounds.”

“So now you’re helping me?”

“Let’s get one thing straight. Gary’s dead and you’re not Gary. I’m helping you, Dill.”

“To the point where you’d risk...?”

“I want you to know I’m serious. You’ve been wounded.”

Wounded? Him?

He asked, “So what do we do?”

“A bit like painting the garage. You need more time in a world that isn’t Vietnam.”

He pointed to the book, still open. “Back to Human Resources then?”

She spoke crisply. “For all of ten minutes. Before Vietnam Gary wanted to know about business. It’s something I know about. Before he even put on a uniform I  helped him – for the future. HR’s just a detail, Dill. There’s more important stuff ahead. Financial statements that’ll make your head ache. Tax breaks. Investment. Planning.”

She waved a hand that encompassed what lay ahead and he noticed its delicacy. “Plus muffins. I got muffins.”

“Comfort food.”

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Billet-doux - revised

Pat, my gentle and tolerant French teacher, is not well and lessons have been on hold for a couple of months. I sent flowers and a card but what I owe her is beyond rubies. I opted for something regular in an envelope carrying a stamp. Pat has a laptop but doesn’t warm to electrons.

What to say? I lead a self-centred and dull life so there’s nothing there. Anecdotes describing my foreign-language experiences, mostly disastrous, were a goer but lacked a direct link with Pat herself.

Our lessons have lasted 17 years and I’ve translated thirty French novels with some rigour. I decided to re-visit this process I'd shared with Pat. Dig up the novels we trawled through, quote extracts, discuss their quality as stories.

The first novel I chose - Bienvenue parmi nous (Holder) - worked well. Gradually the story became clear and I wrote to Pat:

"Is it all coming back? Did it ever go away? You will remember Taillandier buys an expensive shotgun with which to reflexive himself and keeps it in the boot of the car. It was Raymond Chandler who said a gun mentioned on the first page must go off before the last page. ... if I remember correctly there was ultimate disappointment in that this gun didn’t go off. ... Was this a happy revival or not?"

La Lama Bleu  (Jacques Lanzman)was another matter. It takes place in Mexico, I don’t remember Mexico. I don’t recall the pretentious mini-foreword. On page 25 geographico-théologiques developments sound ominous and obscure. The summary on the cover means nothing. I turn my review into a joke which Brian, Pat's husband, says she reads avidly.

OK for now. But suppose I've forgotten the next book I dig up? Must I read it all again?

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Inescapable

Certain posts are unlikely to draw comments. This is one.

Yesterday The Guardian published a heart-wrenching feature about a Twitterist who posted "a regret" and invited others to respond with their regrets. About 300 replied (a modest figure at Twitter) but it was their profundity that impressed - people who regretted great chunks of their lives and said so with great honesty. Notably:

"I regret accepting the first proposal of marriage because I didn't think there'd be any more."

"Not taking a job in Paris."

"I regret being scared all the time."

"That my mum died too young to see me turn from an ungrateful truculent teenager into a person and a father I hope she'd be proud of."

You can see why I'm not expecting an avalanche. The tiny Tone Deaf community knows a fair amount about its neighbours and it takes a very strong-minded (or extremely regretful) person to reveal such personal detail.

Besides there's the cliché reaction that ultimately says nothing: Don't waste time on regret. The point being that those in the Guardian feature lacked this robust option.

So what about me? Yes I regret getting a job where the sole attraction was more money. The magazine was failing despite my efforts, I was miserable for four years and, given my age, increasingly terrified I wouldn’t find work that would ease me pleasingly and rewardingly into retirement. God seemed to intervene. My manager abruptly switched me to an editorship which I’d been (unconsciously) preparing myself for the previous twenty years. Though I say it myself, I was a success. So not a “true” regret.

I expect silence to be eloquent. True regret is hard to live with (re-read the examples) and even harder to confess.

Friday, 27 October 2017

Terse judgments


Twenty everyday jobs worse than being retired (with reasons):

Horticulturalist. Bending.
Member of royal household. Obsequiousness.
Farm labourer. Hours, pay, future.
Pimp. Hell’s certainty.
London estate agent. Hell’s uncertainty
Passport inspector. Despair’s herald.
Brain surgeon. Odds against getting it right.
Catwalk model. Vacuity.
Bank clerk. Counting the notes; mis-counting the notes.
Shelf stacker. Supermarket customers.
Grave-digger. Six feet is a long way down.
UK language teacher. Futility,
Tyre fitter. Smell of rubber.
Hereford restaurant waiter. Size, or absence, of tips.
Palm reader. Who’s doing yours?
Barman. Wit of drunks.
Social service worker. Ever perceived as being wrong.
Prime minister. Transience.
F1 racer. Office space.
Deity. Believers’ demands.

Ten much rarer occupations better than being retired (with reasons)

Poet. Daily unreality.
Singing student. Self-hypnosis.
Fish-and-chip shop owner. Dispensing good value
Computer repairman. Prestidigitation.
Radio actor. Faces cease to matter
Manicurist. Faces cease to matter.
Asparagus grower. Delight on tap.
Train driver. Remoteness, free travel.
Political columnist. Making fiction work.
Being Stephanie Flanders. God loves me.

Friday, 20 October 2017

Blog-parted

I’ve given up verse but not doggerel. Below is a lament for Tone Deaf’s shrunken contacts list and should be sung to Pete Seeger’s most famous tune.

Lacrimosa dies illa

Where do all the bloggers go,
Self-extinguished?
Where do all the bloggers go,
Tomb-stones away?
Where do all the bloggers go?
To the new reality,
Faces that smile at them,
Words in the here and now.

Far beyond our dialogue,
Self-restricted.
To the land of give and take,
Handshakes? Here's mine.
Welcome raw immediacy,
Touch and sight available,
Humans not cyber code,
Breaths on each brightened cheek.

What must we remainers do,
Writing for survival?
Burdened by longevity,
Word-length is time.
Take the time and build on time,
Make-believe eternity,
Pick from the tones to heart,
Sing out with fervency.

OS in NYC: a PS


Younger daughter, Occasional Speeder, now back in Gloucestershire from NYC and jet-lagged into next Christmas, would like you all to know she did manage this while on holiday.

Thursday, 19 October 2017

... and wilderness is paradise enow

Occasional Speeder, born in Allegheny County in 1967, has returned after a few days in New York convinced she glimpsed paradise. Ironically one reason we, her parents, left the US in 1972 after six years, was because I couldn't face the prospect of working in the Big Apple. Pittsburgh I liked, Boston I aspired to, SF I dreamed about. As to NYC I had a blurred vision of my corpse stuffed full of H, slashed with a Stanley knife, riddled with 9 mm slugs, being slid overboard from the Staten Island Ferry. What a romantic I was! More likely I'd have died of poverty in Bellevue.

Come to think of it I was a romantic, but about the US in general. For a year I researched and planned, pleaded with magazines as far away as Duluth, finally found myself the cynosure of all eyes at Rimbach Publishing on the Iron City's Northside. ("Gee, I could listen to him talk all day.") For in 1966 the US was a kind of paradise.

A few local difficulties in SE Asia but what the heck: my draft status was 5A, a Macdonald's burger cost 15 cents and a draught beer the same. The Pirates were on the way and Dormont public library was full of novels I'd never read. For the first time ever I lived in accommodation that was centrally heated.

The mean-spirited on both sides of the Atlantic averred I'd gone there for the money. I was wealthy - on $6000 pa! On Fridays I bought half-a-gallon of Gallo rosé. The neighbours believed wine = wino, they drank Jim Beam so no risk there.

For several weeks I passed as an intellectual. I had friends, which never happened in London.

Paradise? Who needs Fifth Avenue?.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

OS goes overboard

How OS became Americanophile. Christmas in Philly, aged two-ish.
The wreckage in the foreground is what remains of a Cornish Rock Hen
 which OS has mangled, now, genteelly, she's washing her hands in the
water glass. Afterwards we took her into the garden and hosed her down
Younger daughter, Occasional Speeder, was born in the USA although doesn't remember much about it. As a birthday treat (one of the big ones) she's over in New York at the moment and posts the following:

Decision made to divorce parents today. If they hadn't selfishly taken me to the UK when I was four I'm pretty confident I would be living in Brooklyn, in THIS house (pic of brownstone), with THIS dog (some kind of puggish thing) with THIS view on my doorstep (you can guess). Bastards.

Just to set the minds of kind-hearted US citizens at rest this is an example of histrionic exaggeration which I've taught both daughters to practice and for which I'd score her an over-generous 6 out of 10. She's ignored opportunities for further snideities and I'll be reminding her of them when we drive to the Christmas market, in Düsseldorf, in a few weeks time.

In fact OS has solved a problem. Today as usual I rose at 06.25 am and Hereford was in total darkness. It happens at this time of year, I believe, although the vagaries of the natural world are of little interest to me. Yesterday Hereford caught the tail-end of Hurricane Ophelia with the sun turning a dusky red but you won't see me posting about either of those meteorological banalities. Humans have far more potential.

In my eighties I laugh less and today I fully intended to elaborate on this in a piece cut-and-pasted from The Anatomy of Melancholy (By R. Burton but not the famous one). OS's proceedings for divorce brought a wintry smile to my face and an even crueller intention to rain on her parade with a single word: TRUMP. Then I reminded myself I am a parent, I have both advantages and obligations.

I'll make do with "the rest is silence" even if in WS's case, he lied.

Friday, 13 October 2017

Black spots

What am I worst at?

First, an important ground rule. There’ll be none of those weaselly confessions (I over-forgive my enemies. Hiding my handsomeness. Being too literary.) which turn out to be self-serving. Here “worst” means bad: contemptible, incompetent, unmannerly.

I lack social nicety. The West Riding didn’t encourage it and I’ve never bothered to rectify the omission. Far from being trivial social nicety oils the wheels, especially during first encounters. Less to do with what is said, more a tone of voice that sets the other person at ease. Instead I challenge and am facetious.

Personal hygiene. By US standards I’d be stopped at immigration. Yes I do change my underpants but reluctantly. As to my PJs you’d be shocked... And for the sake of the comity of nations I’ll not say how often I bathe. Cleanliness is such a fag, more so as I get older. Nor are there valid excuses.

Impatience prevents me from doing good manual work. What’s more I can live with visible and gross imperfections; in some cases even romanticise the defects.

Writing too much encourages self-centredness. And not in a nice way. Even when I’m not writing it occupies my frontal lobes and colours what I say and do. It encourages “pronouncements” – not a lovable tendency. Makes me sneer.

I know I’m a physical coward because simulated warfare during National Service proved that. But I’m also guilty of moral cowardice. While editing a community magazine I backed down to a bully. An older man with little education stood up to the same bully and won the day.

I drink too much.

Here’s an ambiguous one. I’m amused by things I suspect I shouldn’t be amused by. Perhaps because I’m somewhat detached. Examples are needed but I’ve run out of space.

Monday, 9 October 2017

Could this be Brexit?

Yeah, yeah, pontoons and suits are things. The vacancy is in his head
Some cease to blog because they believe they're all written out. For shame. Subjects abound. How about the present intake of breath and the one that (we hope!) follows? The act of reading these words? The strange and rarely examined phenomenon of being alive? Or for that matter being dead? Momentous topics discarded in favour of mulching flower beds or chasing down bargains at Tesco.

Or we can write about nothing. Split that word and we get no thing, a biblical-sounding phrase intended to invoke a void. But there are more than things out there. Breathing in and breathing out are not things, they're events. Reading is a process as is living. Being dead? Hardly a thing.

And before you dispute the definition of thing - arguing that its very vagueness allows it to cover all experienciable and imaginable phenomena - try Googling "Thing, meaning". Never have I been so ashamed of dictionary compilers as a tribe. Most are overpowered by the difficulty and resort to puerile examples.

Were I still a versifier (I resigned the day before yesterday) I'd relish standing on an eminence and viewing nothing. Not a Rich Tea biscuit, nor a Rembrandt nor a TV remote in sight.

Not-I wandered, lonely as an un-thing
That floats - oh, somewhere - over various non-existing geographical features.


The Bard of Rydal could do better.

Mind you the view from that hill, tump or excrescence might be surprising. War might be ensuing (for war is an event) but the good news would be that nobody would be armed, for weapons are things. Nor would anyone care about the war since none of us would have smartphones on which to goggle at it.

Meanwhile I’ll continue to wrestle with the idea that nothing is something to write about. 

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Tracks in treacle

Sentimentality is "exaggerated and self-indulgent tenderness, sadness, or nostalgia." At first sight you'd say there were worse failings but closer scrutiny shows it to be based on lies, often in the face of incontrovertible facts. One pernicious form is the Golden Era Myth - the belief that yesterday was always better than today, wilfully ignoring such matters as cruder health care, greater authoritarianism, implacable racism, and an uncaring state.

I try not to be sentimental but since this is my 1347th post, virtually all of them 300 words long, no doubt I've let through a few fluffy kitten photos. What I dislike is that sentimentality bypasses reason: "Yes, I know X is wrong but I get this warm glow."

Or to bring things up to date, "I like Boris (Johnson) because he makes me laugh."

Unbridled sentimentality anchors its practitioners in time and encourages repetition. An allusion to Blackpool Tower and one winces in advance at: "In my opinion Bondi Beach doesn't come close; I was always happiest holidaying in the north-west." Implying, of course, that this view is set in stone and will never change.

And yet... a friend lugs round a huge coverless, self-destructing dictionary despite owning the same edition in much better repair. "Because a friend gave it me and she is now dead," I’m told and can't argue with that. Affection must be allowed to bridge the grave. But the dictionary has now reached the autumnal phase and is daily shedding unprotected pages at both ends. Soon my friend will be disadvantaged when it comes to words beginning with a and z. Will the earlier justification still be legitimate?

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Caring vehicles

Recently we spent two nights in Cardiff, capital city of Wales, 58.4 miles away. For reasons too embarrassing to explain I chose public transport. Train would have been quicker but at a total cost of £76. Much as I dislike buses the total cost (£0 since we used our pensioner bus passes) made buses a no-brainer.

For me this was a new world. This service (run by Stagecoach) acknowledges that the majority of passengers will be pensioners and the bus interiors are designed accordingly. Travellers who are mobile are jammed into familiar cramped seats. Their elders not only have more knee-room but adjacent space to accommodate their shopping trolleys; some seats face the bus’s centreline and allow the ancients to drop into position rather than wriggle in awkwardly. Several of the grab-posts are curved to make access even easier.

No one else did the journey end-to-end as we did and almost no one paid cash. At Abergavenny, about half way, the bus virtually disgorged itself  then took on more of the same. Some very ancient ancients shuffled in, travelled a couple of street-lengths, then shuffled off.

Had I been a Tory, firm in the belief that indigent oldsters should be punished for living too long, I’d have fulminated.  But the route took in Welsh valley towns once populated by coal miners, now home to the unemployed and to those on benefits. Pontypool was a particularly poignant example. These middle-distance services are as much a form of social care as mere transportation. When I presented my pass to the scanner I made two or three errors of positioning. Patiently the driver instructed then re-instructed me; used to people of my age.

On the back of the seats were USB sockets for re-charging smartphones. Which I found cheering.

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Modus vivendi

Ok, they're two fellers. But you get the idea
I like broad beans, the novels of Elmore Leonard, and impromptu conversations with French people. VR likes none of these things.

VR likes cucumber, the Ring novels and travelling on buses, all of which I detest.

Living comfortably with someone means shutting your eyes to certain antipathies. In some cases accommodating them.
I like cauliflower, VR tolerates it. VR’s favourite vegetable is spinach, I eat small amounts.

That phrase – “for better and for worse” – tends to apply to large-scale privations: the illness of a child, lack of money, unemployment. Happily such horrors are infrequent but the Pork-Pie/Debussy’s-Music Divide may endure for decades. Living together forces you to measure these smaller but nevertheless dark entities and ask: How much does this matter?

Forget the shared enthusiasms, they’re never the issue. Not flushing the toilet is more likely to loom large. I have not yet used the verb “tolerate” and don’t intend to. For me it carries the sin of self-regard. But there’s no space for that.

Why should two broadly intelligent, frequently introspective, differently brought-up people of opposing genders continue to live together long after the first thrilling glow? In some cases by ignoring each other. In others by habit. Even through fear of loneliness. None of these are inspiring reasons. One alternative is to ask: what am I getting out of this? An even harder option is: what am I putting in?

There can be small recognisable rewards. VR read A Dance to the Music of Time decades before I did; finally there was a concurrence. VR now likes string quartets.

I like Benjamin Franklin: He that falls in love with himself will have no rivals.

Friday, 22 September 2017

Jobs and jabots

Aged eleven I told my father what job I had in mind. Confirmed it four years later and thus joined the local newspaper, aged fifteen and fifty-one weeks. Most agree journalism was all I was fit for but occasionally a maggot nibbles. Suppose my father had lacked influence, that I’d had to paddle my own canoe.

Anything requiring advanced education (doctor, lawyer, academic, scientist, engineer, etc) must be ruled out since I lack the ability to study. Forget too the flamboyant jobs (politician, musician, stand-up comedian, baseball short-stop) given I have neither manual skills nor a viable personality. Nor the nerve for crime, organised or disorganised.

Un-talented men like me often sell things, notably advertising space on magazines I’ve written for. The requisites are mendacity, which I might manage, and constant self-delusion, which would worry me.

The armed services don’t take kindly to those who argue.

Being a priest is fine provided the intercourse never rises above theoretical debate. But I suspect my sermons would be coarse-grained, I could hardly advocate the adoption of an unproven faith, and the super-natural does not appeal.  I have, however, tended to favour all-black ensembles in recent months.

Catering? For two years I cooked for VR who still liveth. But my repertoire is limited to fifteen dishes; enough for me but probably not for paying customers.

I interview well which is not to say I always get the job. To me this skill has always represented a cul de sac.

My late pal Joe and I once met a mendicant poet. A tenuous existence and eventually one starves. A noble end?

Certain court functionaries wear jabots which I’ve always fancied. But are their wearers paid?

Further suggestions welcomed.

Friday, 15 September 2017

An audience of two

Time passes and singing becomes ever more personal. I'll never sing for others so I must sing for myself. Yet singing is communication so I'm like a painter who works in a windowless garden shed and locks the door on his canvases after each session.

Honesty's the key, I mustn't lie to myself. Nor must I be self-indulgent. Home practice (from the score, for memory is treacherous) must always comply with V's instructions:

"This note's double-dotted, a bar later there's a single dotted note; the two differently sustained sounds must balance out over time," V says. Eventually they do and I'm closer to what the composer had in mind.

A fortnight ago, minutes from the end of the lesson, V gave me the score of Im Rhein, by Robert Schumann, words by the poet Heine, from Dichterliebe (Poet's Love) a song cycle I've owned on CD for decades.

Im Rhein, im heiligen Strome,
da spiegelt sich in den Well'n
mit seinem großen Dome
das große, heilige Köln.


(In the Rhine, in the holy stream,
there is mirrored in the waves,
with its great cathedral,
great holy Cologne.)

It's very short, some parts have immediate appeal, some are subtler and it's those I fear. Over the week I listen many times to Jonas Kauffmann singing it, later to a Turkish baritone who is more help. Relating that which I hear to that which is printed, then imitating. At the next lesson I offer V an imperfect but complete version and there's enormous pride in doing that. Then we start on the detail.

Not for the world, alas. I remain in the garden shed but I do, of course, sing for V.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Me and aviculture

Earlyish on Tuesday we leave the house to Julie, our cleaning lady, for breakfast at Tesco's The Cafe. It's better than it sounds, the talk is often wide-ranging. Yesterday, with VR's help, I asked: had I been a good father to my two daughters?

My view tends to be pessimistic. But am I, in fact, equipped to answer? History can be hard to interpret.

I'm about eight, riding my bike on a dirt road past an urban farm. Hens run across the road and one is briefly entangled in my front wheel. I fall off. The farmer is on to me immediately. A fat authoritarian figure in a flat cap, about ten feet tall, laboriously records my address in a tiny notebook, warning me of legal wrath to come. As he writes the hen I hit, minus neck feathers, re-crosses the road with a censorious look. I blubber, out of control.

I ride home, still blubbering, confess all to my father. He's highly amused, says jokingly he'll counter-sue on behalf of my damaged trousers. I'm appalled by his laughter but my terror at this experience of the adult world quickly dissipates. Was that good parenthood?

My suspicions are it's the sort of parenthood I practised. Excluding my mother I grew up in a male environment with two brothers. I wasn't prepared for daughters and I sense my reaction was rough and ready. We're good friends now (I think) but is this despite those earlier years? Did I depend heavily on VR to smooth things out.

I don't know, I'll never know. When fathers describe the bond they had with their daughters I close my eyes and ears. Are some male embryos endowed with good fatherly instincts? I doubt I'm the one to ask.

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Darkness lightened

Sod’s Law reversed! Bedroom curtains in our previous house in Kingston-upon-Thames fitted the present house in Hereford and have hung here for the intervening nineteen years. For me a further nineteen years would have been fine but VR has fussier standards. Replacements were acquired on-line at shocking expense.

Sod’s Law re-applied! We needed a new curtain rail. Foolishly I chose one operated by cord. Attaching it to the wall was a mini-nightmare since the thing is long enough for shark fishing. Apprehension immediately arose when the job was done. This is one of those systems where a single pull opens (or closes) both curtains simultaneously. Thus the cord is over twice the length of the rail and the friction is IMMENSE. It was clear the rail’s tiny mounting brackets, each held by a single inadequate screw and Rawlplug, would not stay put after a few tugs. A self-fulfilling apprehension.

Needless to say rail and brackets are custom-made and the room for improvisation was restricted. A lifetime of bodging came to my rescue and I eventually re-attached the rail more robustly. But the effort required to operate the system continued to be ominous. I mentioned this to VR.

“Why not take the cord out and open the curtains by hand?” she said.

Why not, indeed?

I reflected on the Stone Age. Life was harder then, but simpler. Few caves had curtains. “Why not draw curtains on the cave wall?” suggests Mrs Rubble.

Yes, pragmatism is ageless as is VR.

Saturday, 2 September 2017

Another day but no dollars

The composite RR day, aspired to, never attained.

Rise 06.25. In PJs and Totes respond to Tone Deaf commenters. A tiny treasured group which must be cosseted.

Assisted by Jonas Kauffman on YouTube, rehearse Schumann's Im Rhein, im heiligen Strome. Wearing earphones, singing sotto voce since VR sleepeth. The fast staccato bits especially hard.

Consider doing a post: a list with coloured cannonballs, it's easier than writing. My austere life? Must avoid referring to advanced age.

Complete final preparation of Opening Bars - how V taught me this and that. Dedication reads: "To V who made it happen. To VR who said it should happen". Despatch to printer.

To filling station for The Guardian

Ten pages of Fred Vargas' Pars vite et reviens tard. Alas, Pat, French teacher, not well so no Friday lesson. Write her note about linguistic misadventures chasing up three-pin plug adapters in France.

Diet-day lunch. Cuppa-Soup plus half-tsp chili sauce. Apple, satsuma, black coffee. Eagerly read about Trump foolery. Doze on couch, a sensuous delight.

Glance glancingly at novel, Second Hand, rejected by two dozen agents. Virtually ready for vanity printing.

Choose photo of two urinals for front cover of short-story collection, Two Homelands.

More Schumann.

Look longingly at fifth novel, Rictangular Lenses, 28,572 words done. A low priority at the moment.

Ensleeve two guest-room duvets as favour to VR, her arms being shorter than mine.

Read a sonnet written four years ago. Tiring now. Creativity at low ebb.

Go downstairs. Watch Simpsons re-run. Slaver at thought of  microwaved diet dinner.

Monday, 28 August 2017

Searching for coherence

Since I retired my birthdays have been celebrated in some style. Once at the garlanded Stagg Inn at Titley, then at The West Arms at Llanarmon Dyffryn Ceiriog, deep in rural North Wales where the seven-strong group stayed the night. Often transportation is a major cost but VR and I have never stayed our hand for what else might we spend our assets on? Participants travel from Gloucester, Luton and Tavistock.

Both the above watering holes were fancy-schmantzy and the socialising was in my estimation a success. But money doesn't always make a dinner cohere. Poor quality champagne at one equally chic place led to an evening of disappointment, though my relations disagree with me and say things went well.

This time we demotically took the bus down to central Hereford, called in for a pint at the Lichfield Vaults in Church Street, then dined at Simply Thai, now a favourite of ours. They do a spicy soup based on coconut milk... Best of all it worked as a family gathering, I could tell. This type of atmosphere is always hoped for but never guaranteed; blood lines do not necessarily bring about comity.

Presents can be difficult. Last year, extravagantly, I asked that my car be cleaned and valeted. It rained. This year the sun shone and the Poles who run this service put their heart and soul into it. I stepped into a vehicle that shone and smelt with newness, as it did a year ago when I bought it. I was aware this was wilfully conspicuous consumption, that I was averting my eyes from food banks and the gloom of Brexit. Then I thought of the cat that greeted us earlier at the bus-stop, rolling and stretching in ecstasy on the dusty pavement. Yeah, a bit like that.

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Life at eighty-plus

Today I'm having the stitches out.

I asked VR who was an SRN in the often times whether those in surgical practice used to thread the needle. She says they did. Now needles come pre-threaded to ensure good hygiene. Also to save time, I suppose.

They go even further. When they want to measure a corporeal detail they use a hygienically wrapped tape measure which is then discarded. And some cutting devices, once sterilised for hours in an autoclave, post-op, are now disposable.

There's an interesting minor dilemma here. We're against waste yet this form of waste inhibits infection. But hey, who wants to go down with a bad case of septicemia?

And I myself am part of the trend since I use disposable razors. An activity which is at odds with being born in the West Riding. For West Ridingers are stingy and I - following that grand tradition - tend to hang on to my razors far too long. It's not so much that they become blunt but they cease to have any cutting function at all. Yet my beard is kept in check. How can this be? I conclude that I go over my hairy face more than once and that the bristles are eventually ground away.

Please don't recommend an electric or a cut-throat or the latest Gillette ten-blader. Self-harm is another West Riding tendency, especially if it saves cash. Regard me as incorrigible.

Query: may thoughts be disposable? Or do they rumble on, blunt as toffee-apples? That possibility worries me.

Saturday, 19 August 2017

RR goes to the races

I'm not into horses but my neighbour, Richy, is. He's associated with (take a deep breath) the Mid-Wales & Border Counties Racing Association Ltd and knocked on my door with free tickets for the nearby Allensmore Harness Races. He'd spotted my weakness as an ex-journalist - free anything and I'm there.

The brilliant sunny day put me in a bad mood. I was trying out my new smartphone as a camera; couldn't even see the world in general on the phone's screen, never mind the horses. Took lots of photos of nothing while daughter, Professional Bleeder (PB), photographed me doing just that. Then sent the pic to grandson Ian who cruelly asked: how long would it have taken grandaughter Ysabelle to say: "Put it away, Grandad, put it away."

Fortunately Ysabelle wasn't there but VR was. I expected her to remain in the car reading her Kindle. But no, she'd followed every race, knew who was fast and who was slow; only the handicapping system fazed her. Meanwhile, horses thundered past unphotographed, their drivers adopting a horrifyingly vulnerable legs-apart posture, uncomfortably seated in their vestigial chariots.

Finally the sun went in and I was able to make a fist of mastering the phone/camera and even to appreciate the spectacle. Races are commendably short, the programme was closely adhered to, and - unlike F1 - attempts at overtaking occurred regularly. Richy, as commentator, turned out to be one of the stars; speaking at 200 words a minute, he gave every competitor plenty of mentions and ensured duffers like me were properly informed. I even consumed an ice-cream cone on impulse. As did VR.

PB bought the ice-cream and took better photos so I used hers. Something of an unexpected rural idyll, a mile or so away from my doorstep.

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Hot and sticky (keys)

I wrote this short story on holiday in France. The heat (up to 39 deg C) and the nearness of the keys on the mini-laptop’s keyboard caused many repetitive and frustrating typing errors, interfering profoundly with what I wanted to say. I rewrote it back in Hereford in comparative coolth and on my wonderful Cherry keyboard. The story may or may not be any good but this version is better than the first. RR

LOVE'S A VAGRANT
NEWTON PRIMARY SCHOOL in south London is overcrowded in the daytime, more so at 7 pm when grown-ups keen to better themselves replace the children. Descendants of immigrant stock, apparently ignorant of the popular canard that they exist only to create ghettos for themselves, have swollen the numbers signing up for Advanced C++ or Archaeology up to the Cambrian. So much so that certain classes must now share spaces and risk cross-fertilisation:  Tax Law’s severities being modified by the broader brush of Comparative Theology.

This social contiguity brings logistical problems.  Newton is one of London's densest boroughs and for years the evening emptiness of the school playground had seemed so tempting. Until, that is, the borough realised its potential and rented out the tarmac temporarily, first come first served, to harassed nightclass drivers who didn't care to park half a mile away.

But only early-birds profited. James Partridge, late as usual, could find no berth for his ageing Ssangyong and was further enraged to discover a large SUV wastefully bestriding two slots. Slowing as he drove past he noted a familiar registration. The cow! Typical! Perhaps the patch of grass he'd used before at the Nelson Mandela block of high rise flats would still be unoccupied.

Even so his inconveniences would be worth it. His interest centred on the Newton Quadrennial Festival for which the borough had granted disproportionate rehearsal facilities at the school. Twelve years ago local councillors in the "deprived" sometimes "troubled" borough discovered that inadequate public affairs could be excused or at least disguised under the slogan Newton Has Aspirations. Festivals were then currently fashionable and lottery money had financed the borough's first faltering steps at selling culture to its taxpayers. That festival, which added up to little more than a water-colour competition and some half-hearted DIY folk songs, had failed but failure only seemed to encourage those who distributed lottery largesse. A second festival had included a sprinkling of rock and had launched the brief career of a group then called Mahogany Newt, later gratefully extended to The Mahogany Newtons. Eighteen months later half the Newtons perished in a fiery Transit crash on the M11 but not before their evanescence had been recognised nationally. More cash became available for the third festival, currently in preparation, and this time the organisers had bravely added poetry. James Partridge, nominally an actor, had rarely risen above drinking beer and saying nothing in that mythical pub, The Rover's Return, but had kept body and soul together by employing his sonorous voice on poetry CDs and, even more marginally, on late-night BBC Radio 3. He had high hopes of the Newton Quadrennial.

Rehearsals for Love Poetry A&M, the two-handed recital Partridge was co-partnering, occupied the whole of the school's canteen and after chairs and tables had been stacked on the serving counter there was enough "depth" in the cleared floor area to cause positioning squabbles between the two actors and their director. As he entered through the kitchen door Partridge was already assembling just such an argument only to find events had moved on.

"An easy chair would be better," said Jill in a voice as ungiving as glass.

"Two plain kitchen chairs," said Tancred. "No distractions. We agreed that on day one."

"But this verse of Duffy's luxuriates in the senses. A hard chair would be at odds."

"Five minutes later and you'll be switching to Synge and his funeral. How would a Parker-Knoll fit that one?"

"So spend a bit more lottery money. The committee can afford it. Starkness is so... male"

"While Jim P. must make do with a kitchen chair?"

Jill gestured dismissively. "He wouldn't care tuppence. You're so sexist Tanc, you're no support at all as a director. I thought gays were supposed to be sympathetic."

"Two simple wooden chairs. For sitting on and interacting with.  Plain and interchangeable. Poetry doesn’t need complicating. It’s usually complicated enough."

"Shit on you, Tanc."

"Does the stage still satisfy you, Jill? Would you prefer agency management? Or the armed forces?"

Both sensed Partridge's arrival and turned. He raised his hands in surrender. "Don't mind me. Furniture's not my scene. I'm more into dialogue."

"Soundbites, more like," said Jill.

Tancred stared at the ceiling.

In a rare period of silence each froze into the sort of photographic pose displayed on theatre frontages, hinting at feasts of statuesque acting. Between Jill's parted lips the tip of her tongue peeped out, Partridge's faint smile was definitely wry, while Tancred as director, keen to identify his higher calling, still looked upwards but now hands on hips. Corny but unmistakably authoritative.

Gradually the poses melted back into reality as the chairs were forgotten.

"You're an educated man, Tanc," said Partridge, "How the hell do I pronounce Isoult?"

Asked to advise, Tancred became warner, more animated. "You're talking about the Binyon piece, of course. More particularly: is there a difference between Ysoult and Yseult?"

"At least Isolde's got another syllable." Partridge showing off.

Tancred said, "I need to know Binyon's exact dates. They'll clue me in on whether the spelling is historically justified or just a flight of fancy."

"I could mangle the lady’s name but it's fairly prominent," said Partridge, slipping into declamatory mode:

Isoult, Isoult, thy kiss,
To sorrow though I was made,
I die in bliss, in bliss
.

Tancred nodded. "We've got to get it right. The line cries out for emphasis."

"Full welly."

"Full welly, indeed"

Jill scented male conspiracy. Had detected it from the first rehearsal when they'd divided the selection of extracts chosen by an elderly Oxonian whom Tancred was keen to indulge. "More masculine speechifying," she snorted. "I've said it before and I'll say it again, why don't I get more gender-specific stuff. Half a dozen stanzas from our Poet Laureate plus Edith Sitwell at her most obscure are hardly enough. The Laura Riding's good, I admit, but mainly I'm making bricks without straw."

Neither Tancred nor Partridge cared to answer. Jill was right; the male bias was obvious. Tancred had driven to Oxford to raise the point but the old man had proved intransigent, rambling on about "an ineluctable rhythm" in the poems and their sequence. A rhythm that was beyond Tancred despite a year of eng. lit. at Durham before the theatre lured him away. When he persisted the Oxonian shrugged, told Tancred he could do what he damn well liked but any changes and he would withdraw the use of his name. Because the name brought kudos, if rather faint, Tancred gave in. None of which had been disclosed to Jill, of course.

"Bricks without straw," repeated Jill. "When am I due more straw?"

Tancred sighed. "We've done our best, Jill. You've got your Rosalind, and I've put it at the end where it matters. It may not be straw but it's a sextet of Bach trumpets."

Briefly the sharp grooves round her mouth softened and the eagerness for dispute disappeared. From her distant look Jill had to be recalling:

Love is merely a madness, and I tell you, deserves as well a dark house and a whip as madmen do; and the reason why they are not punished and cured is that the intimacy is so ordinary that the whippers are in love too. Yet I prefer curing it by counsel.
Orlando: Did you ever cure any so?

These weren't the final lines with which the Oxonian had ended his ineluctable rhythms but Tancred reckoned the transposition was worth the risk if it placated Jill. Not forgetting Partridge as Orlando, of course, who had found himself signing off the recital on this piping minor note and had required a soothing pint or two for his agreement. The manipulation was, nevertheless, an act of genius Tancred told himself.

For Jill would never know.

Scouting as a freelance for the National Theatre Tancred had watched Jill play As You Like It in an upstairs room of a pub in Acton. He stood at the back, in the dark, and left before the end. At the time, more than a decade ago, Jill had a growing reputation in period drama on TV and had accepted this near-amateur production as a way of adding classics to her CV. Tancred had arrived with fairly high expectations and was astonished more than appalled at Jill's terrible performance. For one thing she was slightly too old for Rosalind, for another her recent appearance in a television adaptation of Marie Correlli's The Sorrows of Satan had been poor preparation for Arden's lighter antics. Luckily, days later, Jill was picked - by a casting director ignorant of events in Acton - as Beatrice in a BBC production of Much Ado which had led to qualified critical triumph. Her over-wrought Rosalind could be discreetly forgotten. But not by Tancred.

In bribing Jill to swallow the male prejudice of Love Poetry A&M he not only transposed Rosalind's words to the end of the recital but insisted the change was obvious and logical. "After Hamlet it's the part I love to direct most. OK, you'll only be doing a tiny part of the play but you'll enjoy yourself." Tancred paused to swallow much saliva. "You know you're a natural Rosalind."

Afterwards he reflected on the difficulties actors face saying lines they didn't believe in. The blank look Jill gave him showed Acton had scarred her, that she knew how awful she'd been. And how much she wanted that memory to be untrue. But how would she respond?

At first by becoming serious.

She said thoughtfully, "It looks gay and easy. But Rosalind is several different women. Women within women."

Was that a contraction of her throat? Some swallowed saliva?

She added, "I've had difficulties I must confess." - taking comfort from near-truth.

"But I’ve enjoyed the challenges," she said, Shakespeare merrily.

The lie direct! For Tancred had checked. Much Ado had proved to be a solitary success. Jill had played no Shakespeare since.

Thus she was permitted her outbursts. They carried no threat.

But James Partridge was unaware of the background to this deal. Although he broadly supported feminism in acting at least, he was supremely irritated by Jill's nagging references to an unfair world. For him poetry had arrived in his late thirties. Analysing its structure for his recordings had taught him a good deal about poetry's aims, methods and sentiments. Poetry itself had compensated for the poor financial rewards it dispensed. Jill's complaints were not poetic and didn't inspire poetry. He'd pondered a crushing rejoinder based on bricks and straw but had been hindered by thoughts of farm animals. Too crass even for Jill.

He said, "Surely there are male poets who are sympathetic? That piece by Oliver St John Gogarty which we haven't yet allocated:

Tall unpopular men
Slim proud women who move
As women walked in the islands
Temples were built to Love,
I sing to you.


You can't grumble there. It seems to acknowledge woman's superiority"

It was one thing for Jill to fence harmlessly with Tancred but Partridge was a professional enemy. Endowed with undeserved advantages - still able to play youthful leads, if only in commercials. Jill didn't intend being fair or rational.

"Yet the only time we rehearsed it you did it down-stage. Which defeated the object."

It had been an instinctive move at the time and Partridge needed a strong lie to defend himself. "I was opening the gate to you. Didn't you see that?"

"Chivalry, you say. Backing into the limelight, I say."

Partridge sighed histrionically. "Pity we're doing love poems. Whingeing comes much more naturally to you. Perhaps we could find space for:

And thus I clothe my naked villainy
With old odd ends, stol'n forth of holy writ
And seem a saint when most I play the devil.


After all, it characterises many a love affair."

Her voice rose. "Many of yours, you wretched poseur. Richly deserved, too. There's no great credit these days in scraping Dick Three's barrel."

"One way or another isn't that what we all do?"

"Children!" said Tancred (aged 26) to Jill (48) and James (44). "We're out of here in three-quarters of an hour. Let's do a little theatre. Jill, dear, let me see you use the chair for the Dowson.”

As if a switch had flipped. Jill's angrily slitted eyes opened into brightness, her body became purposeful.  She stood behind the chair supporting herself on the back, then to the side as if the chair were an acquaintance, finally sat down, leaning back, legs irregularly apart, an expression of mythical weariness. Adjusted this latter position, eyes downcast, arms lying bonelessly on her thighs. Spoke quietly out of history:

I would not alter thy cold eyes,
Nor have them smile, nor make thee weep:
Though all my life droops down and dies
Desiring thee, desiring sleep
I would not alter thy cold eyes


Both men watched stilly. Tancred drew in an audible breath. "Quite, quite different. Last time you were...

Partridge broke in, was permitted to do so. "... slightly sorrowful. But this is adoration. Pure and simple. Well done."

"Just that," said Tancred. "Jim, quickly now, the Lawrence."

Partridge sat upright on the chair, deliberately anonymous:

Grief, grief, I suppose and sufficient
Grief makes us free
To be faithless and faithful together
As we have to be.


Immediately Jill raised her hand and Tancred nodded. She said, "Jim, there's so much in it. Contradiction and human awfulness. Are you sure one physical position can cover all that?"

Excitedly Partridge responded. "I knew straight away I was wrong. Right after the second 'grief'. How about this, Jill?"
Now he dropped his shoulders for the final line "As we have to be." and his co-thespians clapped enthusiastically in unison.

With three minutes to go before the superintendent arrived to turn off the lights, Jill asked for Tancred's "gay guidance" on a version of the Carol Ann Duffy that, through one of Jill's gestures, might over-emphasise the feminine:

... you stood waist deep
in a stream
pulling me in,
so I swam.
You were the water, the wind.


Tancred thought for ten seconds, perhaps fifteen, an eternity. Finally replied, looking away from her. "No, play it straight, Jill. It has to be universal."

Out went the lights.

In the dark, from the other side of the playground car-park Partridge watched Jill open the door of the huge SUV.

"Selfish old bitch," he said, almost loud enough to carry.

St Geniès-de-Fontedit. July – August 2017

Carol Ann Duffy extract from Forest, Rapture collection, © Picador.
All other extracts from The Oxford Book of Modern Verse 1892 – 1935, chosen by W. B. Yeats. © Oxford University Press.