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

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.