Once Works Well was pure technology. Now it seeks merely to divert.
Pansy subjects - Verse! Opera! Domestic trivia! - are now commonplace.
The 300-word limit for posts is retained. The ego is enlarged

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

And now for something unseasonal

Betrayal is a handy domestic concept and I delight in its nuances.

CAR MANUFACTURER I favoured German cars: several VWs, an Audi coupé, a BMW 3-series. When I retired I bought a VW Passat diesel station wagon, believing it would be economical and would last for ever. A rust bubble developed on the A-pillar within the warranty and I took it in. Had I replaced the windscreen (US: windshield)? I was asked. Yes. Then that invalidated the bodywork warranty. Even though VW do not install windscreens and might well have used the same specialist I did. My next four cars were Japanese. Finally I returned to VW but not those arrogant swine in Wolfsburg, rather to a foreign subsidiary.

JOURNALISTIC ACQUAINTANCE Invited to dinner he arrived saying he hadn’t brought wine because he hadn’t passed an off-licence. He’d passed three. The excuse entered the family pantheon of character-defining phrases. He invited us to a vegetarian dinner and gave us sprout somosas, suggesting Mrs BB cook her famous Beef Wellington for his return. But the camel’s back-breaker occurred after a few moments’ reflection: he never initiated conversation, only reacted tiredly. I made it known, through a third-party, I’d had enough of him. He pleaded to be rehabilitated for several years. In vain.

MY DAUGHTERS A judgement both were capable of: “Dad I saw a super film/heard a pop tune/etc, last night. It was really good.” BB: “How good was it?” Daughter: “Really good.” BB (with increasing sternness): “How good?” To describe an enjoyable experience casually is to betray its value. Both daughters still use “really” but preceded with the faintest of pauses.
Note for Plutarch. I was given Carol Duffy's poems, Rapture, for Christmas, the first time I have ever warranted poetry as a gift. How can this be?

Novel progress 2/1/10. Ch. 10: 1285 words. Chs. 1 - 9: 41,171 words. Comments: Hatch now more fun again.

Saturday, 26 December 2009

Christmas - the same old thing

Evolution of a Beef Wellington. Contained within the pastry case is a duxelles of mushrooms with virtually all the moisture removed, as recommended by Gordon Ramsay. This is held against the 2½ lb fillet steak by strips of parma ham. The steak is seared then flamed (using Tesco Value French brandy at less than £10 a bottle - ie, (to foreigners) couldn't be cheaper). When cool the steak is encased in pastry decorated with "My luve is like a red, red rose..." by Rabbie Burns. Cooked in the oven for 20 min. at 200 deg C and 15 min at 160 deg C.

Served with Sauce au poivre, as mentioned.

YSABELLE IN FLIGHT Mrs BB has been doing this at Christmas for thirty years with a short break which so outraged granddaughter Ysabelle. And it is Y who should have the last word or the last act. In her youth she was the pickiest eater known to man and many a French waiter has she enraged: BB: Et pour la petite, une assiette de frites. C'est tout. Waiter: Mais, monsieur, un peu de chou-fleur, peut-etre? Une saucisse? BB: Comme j'ai dit, une assiette de frites. Waiter: Mais monsieur....

However a year at uni, and an unremitting diet there of pasta, has sharpened her sensitivities. In the phot0 she is on her fourth slice of BeefWell.

Novel progress 28/12/09. Ch. 9: 2190 words. Chs. 1 - 8: 36,852 words. Comments: Edited and re-edited Ch. 8. Still not right. Opting for a little writing instead. That was yesterday and I'm still writing.

Friday, 25 December 2009

Zach firmly believes in the mystery

Why we creakily leave our beds 07.32 on December 25. (1) Who left the strange footprints? Could there be clues in the thrice-bitten carrot, the cup of water (now empty) and the disappeared chocolate digestive? (2) For a modern-day lad like Zach a stocking is no longer sufficient; he needs a sack. (3) A motorbike! How did Santa know?

As they say on the wine lists, the Beef Wellington saga follows.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Oh come all ye techies

Christmas is the season of unacknowledged technology – streams of binary code and £1 toys that would have cost thousands if they’d used yesterday’s electronics. BB puts on a silly Santa hat and rings a few chimes.
CONTROLLED FLASHING The lights on the outdoor Christmas tree flash alternate white, blue and red too quickly – I think – to be mastered by a thermocouple. So there must be some logic circuitry close to the step-down transformer. A multi-wire harness ensures reliability and neatness. Those that don’t know what I’m talking about (No more self-deprecation!) can go and eat a mince pie. Meanwhile I bend the knee before the ubiquity and cheapness (about £5) of electrical ingenuity.
SKILLED CHEMISTRY It will be Beef Wellington again because granddaughter Ysabelle insists on this thirty-year-old-plus tradition. Equally traditional is the accompanying Sauce au poivre to a recipe from the Mrs Beeton we received as a wdding present. This luxury liquid impressed me from the start because to make it you first have to make Sauce espagnole. A sort of culinary Ponzi scheme.
MORE DIGITAL WONDERS Events in the Bonden connubial bed have been timed for two decades by a simple plug-in digital clock which bust a week or so ago. I wanted a clock-only replacement, not a clock radio with its unnecessary extra buttons. In the end, grumbling, I made do with the latter but was more than mollified when I plugged it in and it immediately showed the correct time, date and year. Radio-controlled of course.
QUALIFIED APOLOGIES I have got up a number of people’s noses this year via comments rendered careless, contumacious and carping as a result of switching too abuptly from and to novel writing. Unfortunately there is no guarantee this won’t continue.
Novel progress 22-23/12/09. Ch. 8: 4094 words (finished but not edited). Chs. 1 - 7: 33,000 words. Comments: Over past three days suffered a small attack of writer's block, the most boring malady known to man. Discovered a cure, wrote through afternoon then returned to the keyboard at 1 am and worked until 2.45.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Are we all born to lead?

Industrial efficiency reaches its zenith on a car production line. Robots move heavy objects, spot-weld body parts and spray-paint the body, pneumatic wrenches are set to to tighten nuts and bolts exactly, components come in small batches (“just-in-time”) to eliminate inventory problems, the car body is raised and lowered automatically to prevent line workers suffering back strain. But there’s a price: mind-numbing repetitive work for the humans. Can the price be reduced?

Volvo has a small plant where teams of four assemble wheels and tyres in the correct sequence of sizes and colours for four daily deliveries to the main production line. The tasks involved in this work are rotated to create interest and the position of Team Leader is also rotated after a set period. Trust the Swedes. Except that some people don’t want to be Team Leader. What’s the solution? Better education, or may some people be hard-wired to reject that form of responsibility?

Prezzies from Prague. Because of restrictions about fluids at the airport check-in the beer had to be bought in the duty-free. It’s a dark and I’m hoping the super-beer-knowledgeable RW (zS) will be able to tell me whether I’m in for an enjoyable experience or not. The Salami Minis (now a distant memory) were real hotsy-totsies and thereby delicious. And label on the peanuts – Clever – made them irresistible.

Novel progress 22-23/12/09. Ch. 8: 4094 words (finished but not edited). Chs. 1 - 7: 33,000 words. Comments: Over past three days suffered a small attack of writer's block, the most boring malady known to man. Discovered a cure, wrote through afternoon then returned to the keyboard at 1 am and worked until 2.45.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

What did they do in pleasuredomes?

Sonnet – Harmless and invisible
With women I’m cut off the photograph,
Out of my depth, an awkward northern crotte,
Both bold and shy with nervous coughing laugh
A landscape made cohesive by a blot.
But here within this guarded crystal sphere,
Face hidden, body masked, words free to roam,
Why, I can act the flannelled boulevardier
Provide an entrance to the pleasuredome.
Unseen, I chat to women who, outside,
Would pass with nostrils widened in disdain
Would toss a coin while lengthening their stride
Would look for interest in a nearby drain
Articulate, I tell this sagging face
I have an answer to this lack of grace.

(1) Copy this and paste under D for doggerel.
(2) First four lines are, nevertheless, true. I left
the north unable to talk to, never mind impress, its ladies.
(3) Boulevardier pronounced English way (bool-var-deer)
not French (bool-uh-VAR-di-ay).

(4) Lines equivalent to whistling in the wind.

Distance adds charms

Can you eat and drink vicariously? For a decade Mrs BB and younger daughter have visited continental Christmas markets (Cologne, Aachen, Brussels, Valkenberg, Coblenz, Rudesheim, Bruges, Dusseldorf, Stuttgart) for which I supply some cash and search out a restaurant online. I refuse to accompany them. Why? Because there's more fun in listening to their adventures afterwards than being in charge.

In Prague there was the attraction of meeting Julia under the Christmas tree, drinking gluhwein and telling stories "about the missing person at the table". Julia also emails: "I recognised Mrs BB straghtaway from her poem picture". Since this is a photo taken in 1959 which accompanies a sonnet written for the blog two months ago, Mrs BB's reaction (you can see why we married) was: "I think that's very unlikely".

Dinner was at La Dégustation, a seven-course tasting menu with four amuse bouche interpolations. I'd seen the wine list online so compensated for my absence by financing two bottles of burgundy: Corton-Bessandres, Grand Cru 2005, Dom: Edmund Cornu and, rather more showily, Vosnes-Romanée, Les Chaumes 2006 (the 2005 had run out). The sommelier began explaining their provenance then, becoming aware of my virtual presence at the table, stopped and said, "But then you know about them". I then vicariously sipped the Vosnes ("absolutely luscious") and the Corton ("somewhat more austere") - both judgements courtesy Mrs BB.

Just in case this is becoming too hard to take, let me add I do give to charity. "Too much" to Amnesty International, according a friend of mine with left-wing tendencies.

Came the choice of pudding wine the sommelier offered two: one Czech and one (he started laughing) a sauterne. A no-brainer.

Novel progress 19/12/09. None so far. During the feat at La Dégustation I ate two fried-egg sandwiches.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Time like an ever-rolling stream

Since we're getting near to a celebratory time of year here's a list of Golden Transitions by which my life was improved. Most have appeared before; so I repeat myself.

Power drill (vs. hand drill). Ten holes straight off without palm blistering. Even in brick.
Microwave (vs pan). No stirring, no tenterhooks, no boiling over (unless you're a real clawpoke).
Word processor (vs typewriter). No temptation to ignore errors.
Word processor (vs carbon paper). The "black" is never the wrong way round.
FM (vs MW). Hear the singers drawing breath.
Oz wine (vs cheap French/Bulgarian/Austrian). Forced others to raise their game.
Multi toilets (vs just one). Book reader comes into his own.
Bike toe clips (vs bare pedal). Force applied as it should be.
CD (vs LP). Welcome to the two-disc opera.
Cellular blankets (vs Wilton). Insulation without weight.
Quilted toilet paper (vs San Izal). No more slipping.
Sliced bread (vs the bloomer). Boon when toasting.
Touch phone (vs dial phone). No more arm strain.
Consumer units (vs fuse boxes). Just flick the switch back up.
Comfortable income (vs poverty). Makes old age more bearable.

Novel progress 17/12/09: Ch. 8: 2425 words. Chs. 1 - 7: 33,000 words. Comment: Clare to face the camera! Literary invention was required elsewhere today but managed to squeeze in a few words at the end.

Monday, 14 December 2009

WW goes back to its roots

Works Well has lost its way. It has got itself tangled up with effete stuff like sonnets, novel writing and (most baffling of all) gardening. WW was founded to celebrate technology, to detect beauty where it might be least expected and to leave Elizabeth Barrett Browning dead and buried. Time for a retrospective.

Where's its jet engine? Corsair US carrier-based fighter-bomber, flown in the Pacific during WW2. OK, it's a killing machine but it's muscular, looks right for the job and weren't we then fighting a "just" war?

Whatizzit? It's a winch used for rope-hauling on yachts. Costs a fortune but I'd have it on my mantelpiece.

Uh? A quaver rest and a crotchet rest that fill out the sung first line of the Everly Brothers' "Bye bye love." Here the beauty is in the shapes and their concise expression.

Bit humdrum. And only lovely to those who need to shift a recalcitrant tube. Yet the Stilson wrench (pipe wrench in the US) has never been superseded and the patent dates back to 1869.

Bet they stink. Oh yes, of me and my inglorious history as a rock-climber. Discard them? I'd rather open
my veins.

Novel progress 17/12/09: Ch. 8: 2425 words. Chs. 1 - 7: 33,000 words. Comment: Clare to face the camera! My literary invention was required elsewhere but I managed to squeeze in a few words at the end of the day

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Later, I went Gregorian

An unpleasant image pops up. Primary school during the war with one of our class being disciplined - a girl from the privileged back row gets something wrong, is hauled into the front and starts crying. The teacher, a shriek-voiced harridan called Cox, has wittily taken a bucket and is inviting the girl to fill it with tears. My reaction? There but for...

Zooming back I see more of the classroom. Hung on the wall are lengths of stiffish pink card carrying multiplication tables. I remember what preceded these aides memoires. Without telling us why the aforesaid Cox asked us orally to multiply pairs of numbers and then chalked up the answers. From the new cards we learned the sequences as if they were plainsong and I can hear those rhythmic treble voices even now. For some reason seven-times was the hardest.

Since my education was all downhill from then I'm ignorant of what schools get up to but I understand plainsong was junked. Dismissed as learning by rote, and the emphasis switched to an intellectual understanding of numerical relationships. If I'd been born thirty years later perhaps I'd have picked it up but I doubt it. Another burden to carry into adult life. Whereas chanting was an unequivocal success. Eleven-times? Ah, we didn't go that far.

Novel progress 13/12/09: Ch. 8: 1209 words. Chs. 1 - 7: 33,000 words. Comment: Visit by Zach no spur to literary creation; caught up a little afterwards

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Through the looking glass

to be hard
on myself

I am a living Ozymandias,
The trunk still yoked to legs that force the tide
The lips egg smooth, the sneer a mobile alias
Where intellect and moral power reside.
My verse is latent but my prose takes flight;
My uncombed hair, my brow, my Caesar’s nose
Match acts and thoughts to arms in that stern fight
Against inertia and the clichéd pose.
Women I fear but with that gift I earn
Some passing loyalty, some low regard,
Polite approval for my comic turn,
A welcome unexpected picture card.
It cannot last; ahead I see decay,
The legs detached, the sand, the eggs mornay.

Note: What kind of a name is Bysshe?

Novel progress 11/12/09: Ch. 8: 642 words. Chs. 1 - 7: 33,000 words. Comment: Sonnets bog you down

Monday, 7 December 2009

The road not taken. But let's imagine...

A week before I became sixteen, when hangings were still public and packs of wolves roamed the Dales, I started work. Forty-four years later I retired. Two years of freelance followed as I waited for Mrs BB to join me in retirement. End-to-end scribbling except for two years repairing RAF radio equipment and perhaps an accumulated six weeks spent looking for work. But suppose I'd done something different?

Ian Jack, Guardian columnist and former editor of Granta was reflecting on an alternative life as a plumber. A craft with none of the basket-weaving associations the word so frequently attracts: intellectually and manually demanding (think of central heating systems), useful to society, well-paid, independent. I would be a bad plumber but that's because I lack training and experience. With them I might still be a bad plumber. But it's an interesting thought. How about you?

Jack ends his piece with the most English of questions: How would you feel if your daughter decided to become a plumber? Ah, England.

Novel crib as promised. Provisional title "Searching the Daily Telegraph".
Andrew Hatch, fortyish, divorced, tumbles from production engineer to welding consumables salesman. Loses job, exposed to the chill winds of Thatcher Britain.
Clare Lowther, fortyish, from wealthy family, physics at Wadham, stratospheric IT management jobs. Unsatisfactorily married (three-year-old son) following quixotic gesture to present spouse. Unemployed, looking for change. Both meet (not necessarily carnally) under unforeseen circumstances and in unfamiliar environment. CL - Physical details: thin rather than slender, no bust, slightly elongated face, small upwards curving mouth which appears to emphasise two central incisors, large dark-ringed eyes, curly hair cropped close with some grey, competent and confident (sexually and professionally), impatient with idiots, breathy voice.

Friday, 4 December 2009

A thousand faces

Soon the novel will require me to be plausible about women's make-up.

Such technology! Such techniques! Masochistically shaped eyebrows. Pornographically shaped lipstick. Blusher (On and off like a traffic light?) The deliberate wickedness of eye-shadow. Foundation that wots not of foundation garments. Gloss like lubrication. Lashes heavy with soot. Cheek contours with colour gradations. Spangles. And where does make-up end? On the jawline? Just underneath? Round the back?.

More important: what's it like to have two - or more - faces? I speak as someone who fears barriers between himself and his self-imagined image. An incautiously bought trilby, quickly discarded. Tight shirts. Even an abhorrent wedding ring, especially if it no longer slides off. Yet a woman may transform herself with lipstick alone. Smudge it for pathos. Sharpen the outline for ruthlessness.

My criteria for feminine looks belong to the era when make-up predominated. I failed to respond to Julie Christie and her tousled naturalness. I am sidelined, emasculated but fascinated.

Novel progress 8/12/09. Ch. 7: 4463 words (finished, unread). Chs.1 - 6: 28702 words. Comment: Hatch: bright light and darkness.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Caveat emptor

Sonnet – My written self

My written self takes to the boulevard,

No dozing couch, no thick-thumbed oyster eye,

No raddled failing sense of self-regard,

It smiles, is welcomed, waved to, seen as fly

My written self can help and sympathise

Unburdened by my masculinity,

Can speak with tongues and even improvise

A risky link with femininity.

My written self is sleek and plausible

A world aside from knobbled northern clay

Sneak-thieving, seeming quite adorable

But seeking love without intent to pay.

I am both things: the skills, if such they be,

Within the hulk of incapacity.

Last night: A modern piano - absolute yet unostentatious

virtuoso technique - a piece composed for just that instrument.

Yamaha, Stephen Hough, César Franck’s “Prelude, chorale and fugue." Turned mi backbone to jelly.

Novel progress 3/12/09. Ch.7: 333 words. Chs. 1 - 6: 28,702 words. Comment: Hatch in The Big Apple (make that Crab Apple).

Friday, 27 November 2009

As I take up my sledgehammer

Making a metaphorical garden shed. Cut down a tree to make one of the corner posts. Too short so cut down another. Start squaring tree trunk but break off to mix concrete for base; work again on trunk and find concrete has set in mixer. Discard; mix more. Decide suddenly on walls half brick, half timber. Lay bricks and find concrete base is incompatible with brick pattern; adjust base with sledgehammer. Decide to re-orient the shed through 90 deg...

No it isn't a garden shed, it's a novel. And the above is a behind-the-scenes analogy about why that small para appears at the end of recent blogs. Some people who read this blog know the background; others deserve an explanation. Eight years ago I wrote about 7000 words of a novel and decided in September this year to resume. Three of my incomparable "links" volunteered to read what I'd written, one was more or less forced to. The judgement (albeit expressed much more politely) was it was saveable crap. The 7000 words were re-written, given a cautious thumbs up and more has followed.

I had hoped to pass out succeeding chapters to the links but, after a shaky start, I had to renege. Plot developments kept on forcing me to re-shape the tree trunk, and apply the sledgehammer. When I'm more confident I have something that's half permanent I'll try and resume.

The plot concerns the plight of a production engineer who has the misfortune to be working during the Thatcher era. This is intertwined with a contrasting story about... well I haven't told anyone about that yet. An interesting sideline is the potential race against senility this project represents. May I remind everyone I'm 74.

Novel progress 28/11/09. Ch.6: 0 words. Chs. 1 - 5A: 22,938 words. Comment: Hatch returns.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Horrible to die in Indiana

Recently I mentioned my four near-death experiences but forgot the fifth. I was en route from Pittsburgh to Wheaton, Illinois, (25 miles west of Chicago) accompanied by a Pittsburgh colleague who had, in retrospect, a terrifying theory. Expressways, thru-ways, and interstates are less crowded in the early hours so why not drive then? By 3 am we were reduced to 30-minute stints to ensure one of us didn't just give up the ghost and fall asleep at the wheel.

What did wake us up was a loud bang at about 80 mph. I knew enough not to jump on the brakes and it seemed to take quarter-of-a-mile to come to a halt. Distant inspection revealed flames licking a burst rear tyre above which was the fuel tank.

The sequel to this is dull I'm afraid but relates to something many ignore. Given I was lucky it was a rear and not a front tyre I take tyre checks quite seriously. Especially on our long journey through France to the Languedoc villa. Because the load changes from our normal two persons to five the recommended tyre pressure rises significantly from 33 psi to 42 psi. And because garage gauges are often defective I have become a connoisseur of the portable variety.

The traditional silver one pushes a piston and needs to be positioned carefully; it's also worth having several goes. The one with a digital read-out is difficult to mate with the valve but is more accurate. The tubey-dialish one has yet to be used but I have great hopes. Dull, I know, but then it's so yesterday to cartwheel over the Armco.

Novel progress 27/11/09. Ch. 5: 6932 words (Read. Satisfied.) Chs. 1 - 4: 15,288 words. Comment: A grand improbable love story (not Hatch for now) rises and topples over.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

A blogger redeemed

Two hundred and ninety-eight posts ago Works Well set out to turn technology into a cantata, a Hawksmoor church, a Blake couplet. Camshafts that resonated with plainsong, printed circuits spilling out free verse, Brancusi in a power drill. Against which the sound of the Fireblade would be heard throughout the land.

As any fule know it didn't happen. And the author of this quixotic venture found himself tarnished by a misinterpreted text, seen as low-brow, incapable of responding to J. K. Rowling, frequently laddish, a curtain where there was need of light, celebrant of the obvious, prophet of polystyrene rather than fine thoughts. Desperate references to Sterne and Messiaen failed to alleviate his condition and he was for ever type-cast: a man preferring a pacemaker to a real heart because he liked watching the wheels go round. Suspected of spending too much time in his shed.

A condign fate for one who set out to steal virtual fire from Microsoft. But lately, disappointed and forced into contemplation, he has recognised a form of redemption. To his circumscribed world has flowed enlightenment. About language, cooking, flowers, ordnance, parenthood, the plastic arts, the deep waters of medicine, life in remote parts, forgiveness, encouragement, jousting. At his age he will not change but he can be touched.

It is over a month early and the tone is suspect but if I were to send out a Christmas card this would be a likely prototype.

Novel progress 25/11/09 (Working titles: The ruined con-rod. Or Con-Rod. Or The Connecting Rod. Or how about something based on bearings?). Chs. 1, 2, 3, 3A (Interlude), 4: 15,288 words. Ch. 5: 6136 words. Comment: Huge chapter, not finished yet.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

More self-flagellation

Granddaughter Ysabelle, now doing politics at Leicester, left traces on my computer. A second hard drive allowed her to play "The Sims" without risking my files. But grandson Ian and I formatted Bella's HDD (ie, swept it clear) and installed a Linux operating system.

Changing an OS is like switching your lungs from oxygen to some other gas (methane?). Or keeping a shark and a herring in the same aquarium. Early misinformation left us unable to access Windows XP on the other HD and we needed help. Eventually the chosen Linux (Ubuntu: after an African ethical concept emphasizing community, sharing and generosity) was taken aboard and the only problem is Ubuntu doesn't switch off. Why did we do this? Ubuntu is free, it avoids defects inherent in Windows and it's the techie sort of thing you'd expect me to do. More when I've time.

DELUSION Apart from casting me into the world scarce half made-up, my secondary school was also pretentious: it was never "Oh come all ye faithful" but always Adeste fideles. Years later I profit from this. As I do the drying-up I sing Cantet nunc aula caelestium pretending I understand Latin. A delusion, I know, but we all need our crutches.

WAY TO GO In "The discovery of France", recommended by Lucy, Graham Robb describes how Christians purged paganism by carving dolmens and menhirs into crosses. Paganists struck back and "Yah, sucks boo" ensued when an iron cross embedded in stone was struck by lightning and when a local priest was killed by a falling rock. Secular de-deconsecration was better: mapmakers mounted metal trig points on the crosses. French pragmatism!

Novel progress 20/11/09 (Working titles: The ruined con-rod. Or Con-Rod. Or The Connecting Rod. Or how about something based on bearings?). Chs. 1, 2, 3, 3A (Interlude), 4: 15,288 words. Ch. 5: 2972 words. Comment: More of the same grind

Saturday, 14 November 2009

I die, Horatio

Yesterday was lousy, very lousy. Woke up coughing (unproductively – arghh) knowing I would cough through Christmas to Candlemas. Weather squally. Went to French unable to crack Balzac’s phrase zéro au quotient. Muesli bought this week smelt mouldy. Emails kept me away from the novel. After a mere 150 words of the novel the weather, now a typhoon, blasted the electricity into oblivion. For two hours I wandered lonely like a (black) cloud on the upper floor of our darkened house because I can’t stand the smell of candles by which Mrs BB was doggedly reading downstairs.

Power back and I watched a TV programme in which Simon Russell Beale (Britain’s greatest actor) explained Allegri’s Miserere sung by Harry Christophers and The Sixteen (lauded to the skies on this blog a few weeks ago). Then the roof fell in.

Not literally. Just the metaphorical bit that keeps my ego dry. Here’s why. Several months ago I mentioned here Tallis’s a cappella masterpiece Spem in Alium. Because I hadn’t heard it for years I played the CD, bought twenty-five years ago.. On an adjacent track was Miserere which I couldn’t remember ever hearing. Played that too and was impressed. In a fatal gesture to the blogosphere I drew attention to this exquisite, if obscure, work.

Except, of course, as you all know it isn’t obscure. It’s a classical pop and David Willcocks' version in the seventies sold thousands. It was as if I’d said to a friend, “Yes I really loved Ticket to ride but did you know the group has also done something called Sergeant Pepper?” What you are seeing here is a modern form of ritual suicide.

Novel progress 16/11/09 (Working title: The ruined con-rod). Chs. 1, 2, 3, 3A (Interlude), 10,874 words. Ch. 4 - 3985 words. Comment: Note new title, courtesy Julia. It may not last but it's much better than mine. Discovery: Women haven't worn slacks since the Hepburn-Tracy movies.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Mankind's great leaps

“It is difficult to design an ugly bridge,” wrote John Betjeman in The Spectator, a lifetime ago. “But the people responsible for the M1 managed it.” He was quite right. Those motorway crossings are the arse-ends of block houses. True, Britain has put up the Humber, the second Severn and the Dartford, but I have lived in two countries where great bridges are a casual fact of life.

No need to blow the Golden Gate’s trumpet; tolls are only payable into San Francisco not out, my first experience of this municipal snobbism. But the Gate tends to overshadow the much lower, much longer (7 miles) San Mateo bridge where, frequently, your car is virtually at one with the watery surface of the upper bay.

Switch east and I left the USA on the SS France, gazing up, sure the ship’s telecoms mast would scrape the underside of the Verrazzano Narrows bridge south of New York. It didn’t. Where I’d been living, in Pittburgh, was the Bridge to Nowhere where a planning foul-up left this coathanger more of a pier than a bridge for a decade. Being profligate with bridges, that’s real profligacy.

France is the other heavy hitter. The dizzying St Nazaire, bestriding the Loire estuary, suddenly became a free ride when the authorities decided that toll-payers had paid enough. And – without fanfare – Calais to the Normandy coast became a mere step and a half when the mouth of the Seine was bridged in a high arc at Honfleur.

But to match engineering with artistic splendour cross the Massif Central and approach the Millau viaduct: seven mystical yachts with powerful flashing mast-lights visible from ten miles away. A Brit designed it but it was the French who said “Yes!”

Novel progress 12/11/09 (Working title: The damaged con-rod). Chs. 1, 2, 3, 3A (Interlude), 10,874 words. Ch. 4 - 1900 words. Nearly 2000 words in two days - must be bad

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Layers aren't so terrifying but I'm afraid this exceeds 300 words

Below is the sequence of steps involved in creating a layered montage (four images, two lines of text) in Photoshop. I hope it doesn't seem discouraging. The fact is writing it out results in a much more ponderous set of instructions than doing the job itself. Once the first two layers have been created the job becomes self-evidently repetitive. Also the benefits of layers become quickly apparent and the reasons why the approach to layers seems complex is explained. Finally, once you've done a montage with PS layers you'll never want to do it using the hit-and-miss methods offered by other graphics packages.

The montage that currently heads my blog is built up from four layers each containing an image (PicA.jpg, PicB.jpg, PicC.jpg, PicD.jpg - in sequence below) and two further layers each containing text (Works Well, and the opening of the sonnet). Let's deal with the images first.1. Open all four images together in Photoshop.Although the biggest image (PicA.jpg - the Spitfire) will obscure the rest the others can be accessed by scrolling the little arrowheads at the bottom of the work area labelled Photo Bin.

The biggest image, PicA, is naturally going to provide the background to the rest. The others I'll call subsidiary images. For the moment, simply bear this in mind.
2. Using the Photo Bin arrowheads open (ie, bring to the top of the pile) any of the three subsidiary images. Let's say this is PicB. Go to Layer in the toolbar and click "Duplicate Layer". This small window (above) has two slots that need to be filled in: "As:" and "Document:" The Document slot has a downward-pointing arrow on the right which releases a drop-down showing the names of all four images.

4. Ignore the data shown in the two slots. From the drop-down click on PicA which then appears in the "Destination:" slot and establishes PicA on the background layer. Up above, in the "As:" slot, type in Pic.B. Click OK.

5 Do Step 4 for the second subsidiary image. Using the Photo Bin arrowhead open PicC. Do Layer > Duplicate Layer; use the drop-down to again select PicA in the "Destination:" slot, then type in PicC in the "As:" slot.Click OK

6. Do the same for PicD.7. The three subsidiary images are now layered on the background image. You can confirm this by using the Photo Bin arrowheads to bring PicA to the top of the pile. The three subsidiary images may be piled one on top of the other. To shuffle them about independently identify the Layers facility at the bottom of the right-hand corner of the screen. Click on this and small versions of the four layers appear (see above), correctly identified. Click on any of them and a dotted frame will appear round the selected image.

8. The image may be moved around by locking the cursor on to the image's centre mark and moving the mouse. To resize the image click on its bottom right-hand corner. This causes the toolbar immediately above the work area to change. Click on the three-link chain to the right of the Width slot. This locks the width/height ratio and by pulling or pushing on the image's corner the size may be altered without distortion.


9. Use the Layers facility (bottom r-h corner of screen) to click on the background layer containing PicA. Go to Layers in the toolbar, click New. This causes a box to open with a slot called "Name:" Type in Text1 and click OK.

10. The thing that baffles many! A totally INVISIBLE layer has now been imposed over the four layered images. However its existence may be confirmed in miniature in the Layers facility. Using the Text tool (a capital T) in the vertical toolbar and choosing a contrasting colour write in whatever you want. Increase the type size in the conventional text box in the toolbar. Move the words round by using the Move Tool (top of the vertical toolbar).

11. To create another text layer merely repeat Steps 9 and 10 but enter Text2 instead of Text1. The unshaped montage will look like the picture below and will be identified in the Layer facility as in the picture below that.
12. Size, colour and font of the text layer are changed in the conventional manner. However Photoshop offers some sexier options. Works Well is an embossed special effect and is found (after some searching) under Filters.

13. When you're satisfied with the sizes and positions of the layered elements go to Save As, give it a name and feel superior to the rest of the known western world.

Novel progress 10/11/09 (Working title: The damaged con-rod). Chapter one: 3420 words, Chapter two: 3806 words. Chapter three (finished and edited): 3153 words. Chapter 3.5 (an interlude - finished 10/11/09): 500 words. Comments: Ch. 3 re-edited. Interlude (possibly in itals) links parallel story starting Ch. 4.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Here's to the Metropolitan Line

SONNET Autumn 1959
Hearing the pulse of Betjeman we rode
The line north-west to its extremity.
By Spice Isles (Wembley Park and Chorleywood)
To empty smoking roads of privacy.
That newness of ourselves we lost elsewhere
Yet I may touch the texture of that day:
The soft beige calf-length coat, the sleek gold square,
Suede gloves, the cloud-sprung head, the breath’s bouquet.
While I – a shabby swain – in mackintosh,
The stigma, later, of perverted age,
Smooth jowled, smooth cropped, smooth mind, all false panache;
A vagrant on an unaccustomed stage.
An afternoon of chance-bred unity,
That led to this, a vital memory.

NOTE (7/11/09): I am dissatisfied with the way I responded to kind comments on the above sonnet. My latest "re-comment" tries to explain this.

Novel progress (Working title: The bent con-rod). Chapter one: 3420 words, Chapter two: 3806 words. Chapter three: 2890 words - 8/11/09; previously 2376 - 6/11/09. Comments: Another goodish afternoon - 500 words. Big bifurcation ahead, possibly to the dismay of Hatch lovers.

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Can't see it; haven't got it

I have three roles in Mrs BB’s kitchen: to wash up, to lift things down from high shelves and to observe. Recently I observed blind baking beans in action, preventing that culinary solecism whereby pastry case and tart contents combine. I recognised their function but couldn’t remember having seen this procedure before. It turned out Mrs BB had bought the beans two years ago. And before? Real beans, but “they’d begun to look a little secondhand”.

I wondered if cooking beans end up in that destination I identify as the Food Processor Bermuda Triangle involving tools for comparatively rare but very specific tasks (eg, a melon baller). So rare that when the need arises one bodges rather than look for the tool. The phenomenon reaches its expensive apogee when a food processor is “put away” rather than being left on the work surface. “Not in a well organised kitchen,” replied Mrs BB a trifle frostily.

I AM NOT SEDUCED by perfumed toilet products. My preferred shampoo is Head and Shoulders which has a chemically smell and an in-yer-face aim (gets rid of dandruff). My favourite soap is Wright’s Coal Tar. If I could find a tooth-paste flavoured with petrol I would buy it. Yes, I know, it’s a man’s thing and its finest expression is a deep love of Swarfega (alas, now newly packaged). Used by garage mechanics for cleaning oily hands it is a luminescent green gel which feels excitingly slick to touch and has a hypnotically techno smell. It’s at its best when taken from an industrial-size container and it not only works well but better than you could ever expect. Welcome to this blog.

Novel progress (Working title: Bloggers Unite). Chapter one: 3420 words, Chapter two: 3806 words. Chapter three: 698 words.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Getting the better of Photoshop

I shouldn’t be posting grandson for a second consecutive time but he has WALKED ON WATER! I was trying to redesign the blog's home page montage and he insisted Photoshop’s Photomerge Panorama feature wasn’t the way to go. It had to be PS’s terrifying system of layers. We had many false goes; the jargon is horribly knotty (Why for goodness sake “duplicate” rather than “copy”?) and for a time there was no way out. Then it happened; immediately I had him repeat what he’d done. And, of course, once you know, it’s the only way and you start to understand why it’s so complex.

I know other people have given up on Photoshop and opted for easier software. Fine. But if there’s something you’d like to do, chances are PS will do it. And despite appearances PS was designed by humans for humans. Ughh, how smug I’m getting.

IT MUST HAPPEN. Had a chat with my younger brother recently. For no good reason he doesn’t figure often in WW. Much of his adult life he has sailed and recently I was drawn into this esoteric yet absorbing activity. Just enough to understand the buzz. For various reasons he sold his 36 ft yacht Takista and now he’s on the brink of buying a Contessa 32. He’s a successful businessman, now retired, and he started talking about the favourable economics of getting another boat. Passionately I begged him to put aside the instincts of a professional lifetime and just respond to the boat’s aesthetics. This may well happen. I hope the photo shows why I urged him on.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Surfer's last wave

A hurricane, driven by my 6 ft 4 in. grandson (see above), has transformed my computer into a lean, serene machine. Boot-up takes about a minute, icons have been scythed from the desktop, impatient programs no longer lurk on the start-up toolbar, the registry (ie, the machine’s DNA) has been re-arranged, temp files trashed, and so on. Opened windows slide effortlessly and buttons depress like those on a Mac. There’s talk of converting the second hard drive – retained so my granddaughter could play Sims without disturbing my part of the computer – into a repository for Linux.

Yet the work included at least one of those circular journeys so typical of computers; a special kind of irony, if you like. I run a website for the local community. Several years ago a feature called FTP Surfer allowed me to look at the website files stored on the server as opposed to those on my machine. This had become defunct and grandson and I worked hard to restore it. We contacted the ISP, changed passwords, permutated the changed passwords and consumed a further hour in general fiddle-faddle. Finally FTP Surfer was restored.

I then showed grandson the workings of Dreamweaver, the complex software with which the website is created and maintained. I revealed, for instance, the many files that go to make up Belmont Rural, plus… Oh no!… all the reflected files on the server. So that’s why I was able to get along without FTP surfer working. Its need had disappeared.

The irony lies in what happened next. In grandson’s purge of unneeded programs, the next casualty was FTP Surfer. Seen as a problem, repaired, and now rushed off to Tyburn.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Beware the editor's footnote

Still coughing but becoming more loquacious.

I spend my leisure fencing with the literate, multi-talented, globe-spread, no doubt handsome people of the blog world. But I have another life – running a local website – where passions take a different turn. For instance:

The editor's right to edit is understood but when my words "the Rotherwas Waste Recycling Centre" were changed to "the dump" I queried this with the website's editor-in-chief.

Our discussion centred on public awareness. Many folk may not realise that, on average, 80% of the unwanted materials delivered to The Rotherwas Centre are in fact reused for… etc, etc,
Cllr X

NOTE Since Cllr X has uncomplainingly borne not only changes to many of his website contributions in the past, but even outright refusal to publish other contributions, he is fully entitled to draw attention to what he considers heavy-handed or unsympathetic editing. Calling the RWRC the dump diminishes the centre's functions, it is true. But no label is an exact description. I reacted to the newer term in the way I might had I been faced with "rat catcher" elevated to "pest and rodent extermination officer". Also the shorter word has benefits: asking the average Herefordian the way to the dump might well produce an immediate answer, whereas there could well be a pause (at best) if the longer phrase were inserted. And since the website has only one worker-ant I feel I can dispense with editor-in-chief for the shorter, punchier - website editor.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Despatches from El Alamein

Just a heavy cold but complicated, as always, by the after-effects of a childhood racked with chronic bronchitis now retro-diagnosed as asthma. Feverish dreams in which I’m compelled to complete a sodoku game (it’s no go; conscious or unconscious I don’t know the rules) followed by two months of coughing. I exacted some revenge months ago by writing a sonnet on that latter subject.

Colds are bad news because I know they can’t be cured. So, treat the symptoms. The temptation to use scotch must be eschewed since the symptoms persist, enhanced by a murderous headache. In my case the bronchi and – rather surprising – the diaphragm blaze with pain after every cough. Pain demands an analgesic, hence industrial-strength ibuprofen.

The result is a pyrrhic victory (“Any more wins like that and we’re done for.”) As the drug fights the nerve endings the battlefield is laid waste. But the battlefield is my body and what laughably passes for a mind. The fruited plain becomes nothing more than landfill. This is not the time to embark on a demanding new verse form or to entertain a fellow blogger with a comment that will read a week later as pure boiler-plate. The prescription is thus analgesic plus abstinence from creative activity.

And that includes thinking. No great loss since sooner rather than later thoughts will turn to the state of my lungs. Finding things to curse is one solution, self-induced torpor is another. I leave the TV switched off: good stuff turns enthusiasm into wheezing, bad stuff makes me angry with the same result. I may if I wish contemplate the case of Michael Jackson.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

A post from the distaff side

Plutarch's most recent post consists of a breaking wave, reminding me that when we met at TBR he was interested to hear Mrs BB had taken up painting and urged me to let in some light on this matter. Mrs BB's reaction to this was predictable (ie, No.) but one doesn't live for forty-nine years with someone and not discover one or two of the pressable buttons. In the end neither of us could decide which of our preferences should get the nod, so here they both are with another thrown in for good luck. The fact that neither is precisely aligned can be blamed on the one who operated the camera.
PS: Further close examination revealed that the twin paintings were not only unaligned but out of focus. Hence their replacement.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Chillis and the Voice of Doom

In what my elder daughter referred to as “the often times” there was just one TV channel and the BBC filled up gaps between programmes with film of a rotating potter’s wheel and a speeded-up train journey covering London to Brighton in sixty seconds. This post may well fulfil the same function, for I am presently otherwise engaged.

The chillis have nothing to do with technology and merely serve as a reminder that my lack of faith in received religion should not be allowed to extend to horticulture. They came from a single plant sown by Mrs BB and which, despite my deepest foreboding, went forth and multiplied. They will be dried and/or frozen. The purple plastic bag has Internet links since it came from Purdy’s, a shop I believe to be located in Vancouver, BC. No prizes for making the connection.

AS I STARE into the monitor, involved in the aforementioned other work, a crisp didactic female voice says: “You have reached your destination.” I deserve this since I’ve dribbled on rather too much about mortality in recent posts. But this is not condemnation from a surrogate Grand Seigneur. It is my satnav, triggered by computer activity, possibly the optical mouse. I reflect briefly on the persistence of horticulture, and resume.

TO MY FOUR COUNSELLORS The rewrite is two-ninths complete and may be up to fifty percent at the end of the day. This is gratifying though judgement will be what counts. I thank you all but end on a note of authorial caution: rewriting is sixteen times easier than writing.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Another act of self-expiation

Speech came first; alphabets provided the toolbox – the technology – by which speech became visible. And a rare old hash we made of it. We’re all aware of English negligence (enough, cough, bough, through, for starters) but the French are just as bad. Take feuille (leaf); could there be a more complicated way of spelling a syllable and a half. As for Finnish – why all the umlauts? Since the double dots modify vowels why not pick more precise vowels in the first place?

Two cheers at least for German, then. I know just enough to recognise Germans worked harder at relating the alphabet to speech and in maintaining consistency thereafter. I particularly like the iron-clad rule that ie spells ee, and ei spells aye and it curled my teeth in America to hear Steinberg rendered wilfully as Steenberg. Yes I know Germans use (possibly invented) umlauts but somehow they don’t seem as prodigal as the Finns.

Learn the basic pronunciatory rules in German and you’re more or less home and dry.

Seid umschlungen, Millionen
Diese Küss für ganze Welt.

(Be embraced (oh ye) millions,
This kiss for the whole world)

It’s a crime to offer it unsung, and without the tenors pushed so far up the scale they’re almost trebles, but I do so knowing that a few days’ familiarity will be enough for the average Yorkshireman (Is there any other kind?) to communicate those words.

Why am I doing this? In self-expiation. The few Brits attracted to other languages tend to get swoony about French. And I’m more guilty than most. Pax vobiscum. Oh, what a smartyboots.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

It's not voyeurism it's maths

Womens’ shoes have not figured enough in Works Well. They’re important because my standards in pulchritude were established in fifties’ films when women stars were heavily made up, had hairstyles apparently achieved with a planishing hammer, wore sheathlike dresses even in the kitchen and walked around on stilettos. I’d always vaguely assumed this was standard footwear everywhere and it was only in, say, the eighties I realised this was no longer the case.

It’s no doubt crass but I secretly admire stiletto-clad feet. Possibly it’s a fetish. Certainly it’s unforgivable that women are still required to cripple themselves in order to pander to male preferences and in public I’m world president of the Anti-Stiletto League. But in secret…

I conclude the appeal lies in the shoe’s geometry. In profile the stiletto can be rendered as a triangle with a right-angle between the heel and the sole. The angle that matters is the one above the right-angle and it’s a case of the smaller the better; as the heel is lengthened this angle shrinks. Interestingly, though, there is a limit. The shoes shown are pretty near that limit since the tops of the feet are virtually in line with the front of the calf.

In the ballet dancer’s feet, conveniently x-rayed, the angle (in this case relating to a non-existent shoe) has diminished to zero. Leg and foot share the same vertical plane. What started out as an audaciously sexy re-arrangement of nature now becomes an anatomical deformity. There’s no percentage in losing the concept of the foot altogether. I’m glad about this.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Perhaps it was the drink as well

Champagne, Stella Artois lager, Adnam’s and Fuller’s ale failed to dispel our conviction that there was too much to say and too little time, when Plutarch and I met yesterday at The Blogger’s Retreat. Blogonames cropped up and were rearranged in the pantheon. I mentioned I was considering resuming a dormant novel and to husband my waning resources Works Well should be closed down. “Write both,” said Plutarch succinctly. Outside it was pouring and he lent me his umbrella, explaining that his wide-brimmed leather gaucho’s hat offered sufficient protection.

And then an epiphany. On the rush-hour-jammed tube to Paddington I found myself pressed against a small man standing up and contriving to read a paperback. I was pierced with homesickness for life in London. The greatest city in the world and you pay the price in discomfort, as this man was quietly proving. It’s worth it. But London is for youth, not old age.

TECHNOLOGY IN YOUTH Trolley buses, painted blue and cream and adorned with the city’s coat of arms (Motto: Labor omnia vincit), carried me to the centre of Bradford years ago. When the driver floored the “accelerator” relays clacked open and shut, powering the motor. If you pressed your ear against the metal post supporting the overhead cables you could detect a faint whirring as the bus – as yet unseen – approached.

The bus stop I used stood close to the open door of a carpenter’s workshop where an unguarded circular saw was frequently at work. I can hear the rising scream now as the noise changed steplessly from C in alt to G# above. In those days I had perfect pitch, now I resort to perfect lies.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Not yet finished with George Frideric

As the final rippling interplay of the Amen chorus dies away, you are left reflecting on the words. Most come from Isaiah and they’re a mixed bag. Some are sublime…

He was despised, despised of men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.

…especially the deliberately understated “acquainted”. On the other hand, bathos may be only a crotchet or two away…

How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace.

…raising a number of anatomical questions. I was familiar with both the above but this was the first time I was aware of the implications of…

Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain...

… so paradise will look like Lincolnshire superimposed with a New York street grid pattern. Climbers not welcome. If Yahweh doesn’t like gradients or curves (Motorcyclists, too, it seems will not be welcome) why did he create them?