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.